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By Brian Butler

The above  “what’s-left-of-a-half-a-semi” is a “vacant” building on a street full of vacant and burned out homes. Upon arriving at this fire, a man jumped out of the rear window and ran from the scene. We never assumed it was unoccupied…

There’s an on-going argument in the fire service about using the word “vacant” when it comes to structure fires involving vacants!. It’s the battle of- vacant vs abandoned vs derelict vs hazardous vs ______ fill-in-the-blank. Interpretation can be simple..

Let me explain, and it’s okay if you disagree…

The term “vacant” is appropriate. It doesn’t mean it’s “empty” or unoccupied, it means that the buildings status is vacant (yes really!). It’s not legally occupied by renters or owners. Squatters and trespassers illegally occupying the property doesn’t change the definition of of the buildings original status before it catches fire.


This also means that we don’t always assume its not occupied. It signals caution, not defensive..Let’s not get caught up on several different terms. The arriving firefighters do not know if the buildings owner “abandoned” the property or still owns it and just neglects it. Some vacants are hazardous and dilapidated while others are in good shape and structurally sound; we really don’t know for sure even if it has been marked, what has happened to the building since? (roof cave-in, interior scrapped, prior fires etc..)


We’re not idiots, let’s keep it universally simple and not assume because it’s deemed a vacant (or non-vacant) that there are no occupants, just like we don’t assume there are no holes in the floor, needles, furniture, children inside, fire in the basement, and other various dangers many of these VACANT structures have.


It also signals to all incoming companies to the POSSIBILITY of a dilapidated, abandoned structure, board ups, holes in floors, drug paraphernalia/needles, hoarding conditions, open roofs, illegal utility, missing stairs, rotted floor decking, early collapse, and various other hazards and conditions to prepare for on arrival. KIS?!


Schedule for your department:
“The ‘Occupied’ Vacant” 🔥 Fires in Vacant, Abandoned, and Dilapidated Buildings.

Presented by: www.urbanfiretraining.com/profiles




Starting in 2018, most vehicles will be manufactured with passenger side laminated glass, rendering the halligan strike and hole punch useless. The rear windows might also be laminated, just like the windshield. Laminated glass has two layers of glass with a layer of plastic in the middle. This can be a major problem when a rapid rescue has to be executed.

Police officers and firefighters have saved many people trapped in burning cars by taking out tempered glass windows with striking tools, Mag lights, batons, and pulling people out through the window. That will not work anymore. This will also become an issue for vehicles under water.

This officer struck the window believing it would shatter like the more commonly encountered tempered glass does. This was a laminated side window which caused a delay in extricating the driver. Cutting laminated side windows with a potential victims head on the other side just inches from your tool has to be practiced. Plan some cutting and chopping time at the next extrication drill.

ALL ENGINE COMPANIES that do NOT have a Glas-master or Rhyno cutting tool should push for them. During vehicle fires these windows will not fail like tempered glass. A cutting tool may be needed to make a rapid rescue or make room for a hose stream directed into the vehicle. Another method is to use the blade of the axe or fork of the halligan to chop the window (do not strike the occupant!) and flap it down. Even a reciprocating saw will do the job, but may cause a delay. Use your next vehicle fire to practice cutting, chopping, sawing these laminated windows.

For police officers, consider the Glass Assault Tool.

Be sure to use a mask filter to prevent inhaling glass dust particles. For real time incidents, pull your Nomex hood up over your mouth and nose and wear safety glasses for respiratory and eye protection. 

truckfire2By Brian Butler

“Engine 4 is on location, we have a vehicle fully involved, pulling a line.” It’s not really a thorough “size up” but more of a brief radio report of what you got and what you’re doing. It’s simple, short, and to the point. But after that report, we should perform a more thorough mental size up when dealing with automobiles and moving machinery. This includes ensuring proper apparatus placement, traffic control, proper line selection and proactive awareness of the typical dangers such as launching struts, burning magnesium, numerous airbags (inflators), plastic fuel tanks and running fuel fires (which is why proper apparatus placement is so important). See our vehicle fires page for more.

These on-approach size ups should be done by everyone on board, not just the company officer. The pump operator, nozzleman and officer ALL NEED to size up vehicles involved in fires, accidents or both for various reasons. (Most vehicle fires send one engine to handle the job. Some departments may attach a truck, squad, or rescue company).

A mental size up just means it’s not being announced on the radio, but you’re still analyzing what’s in front of you. Most radio reports should be kept brief unless it’s a major incident involving a target hazard vehicle like an occupied school bus with entrapment, or a gasoline tanker which would require additional resources, shutting down highways etc..

Add a fire to this incident. What’s your plan with a 3-man engine company?

TARGET HAZARD VEHICLES: There are some vehicles I label “target hazard” vehicles. They’re types of vehicles and moving machinery that have the potential to further complicate the incident when they’re involved in an accident, fire, or both.

The term “moving machinery” is broad and defined as any machine in motion on our roads and highways. Trailers hauling numerous vehicles, landscaping trailers with agriculture-lawn mowers, gasoline on-board, wood chipper trailers, sanitation trucks with (roll off) compactors, large construction vehicles on trailers, wide load vehicle transports, and other large machinery being hauled that may become unstable or add additional fuel to the fire. Simply put, it’s the shit you worry about when you arrive on scene and realize you do not have the manpower or equipment to handle the incident. Then Murphy shows up and gives you a rapid rescue that needs to take place.

The definition of a “target hazard” vehicle is simple; it’s any vehicle that when involved in an accident or fire, SHOULD raise a red flag. Some examples are:

-CNG Transit Bus

-School Bus

-RV’s, Food Trucks (Propane)

-Sanitation Trucks (Garbage, Recycling)

-Hazmat Delivery Trucks (Fuel Delivery, Propane, Gasoline Tanker)

-Cement Trucks


-Armored Trucks

When these types of transportation machinery are involved in fires or accidents, use extreme caution and properly size up all vehicles involved before taking any action.

Urban Fire Training offers an advanced class on transportation machinery. This is a valuable class and the only one out there on sizing up moving transportation machinery.

Schedule a class for your department by emailing urbanfiretraining@gmail.com.

ELEVATORS, TRAINS, and AUTOMOBILES: Sizing up Transportation and Passenger Occupied Machinery. 


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By Brian Butler

Let’s not get this new “health and fitness in the fire service” phenomenon twisted…

I am approaching middle-age- and I don’t smoke. I work out 3-4 days a week because I like to. Occasionally I eat wings, pizza and drink . But some of the best firemen I know do not work out or diet. They are a combination of overweight, chubby, middle-aged, smokers etc… Some have construction jobs on the side that require an 8 hour day of labor that most gym rat millennial’s couldn’t handle. They also work harder at fires (sometimes w a cigarette dangling out of their mouth) and are better at their job than many younger fitness gurus by far. They’re also the last people you’ll ever see at the EMS station after a fire. This fire service myth that being in shape makes you a better firefighter is ridiculous.

You want to work out, go to a gym. You want to eat right, go diet. But it isn’t going to make you a better firefighter. In fact, the fat smoker who never wore his SCBA doing overhaul for 25 years may outlive many of us.

The health argument is encouraging and thank you (like we don’t have common sense and need 10 course offerings at conferences on fitness to substitute fire-related subjects, I mean hey it used to be a “FIRE” conference right?)

Yes fitness and diet are more likely to make you a “healthier” person, we know that, but that doesn’t automatically make someone a great firefighter. Just say’n

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“There’s more than one way to fight a fire, supply water, perform a rescue. 
Remember, you’re always being filmed and uploaded for ALL to see.”-Brian Butler

It’s not really a title, it’s just a phrase I share anytime I am teaching a class or discussing strategy and tactics with someone who had to throw the books out the window to properly mitigate an incident or a difficult situation. Other times I have shared the phrase with that ‘handjob’ who doesn’t budge on their views of using what they believe are the proper methods of doing things (even though they have never tried any other way).

It’s hard to deny that almost every incident we go to, even a boring CO residential alarm, people are recording the fire departments actions. What you do during a car fire, house fire, EMS call, extrication incident, or even when placing a ground ladder up to a window to enter a home with a pot on the stove- it’s being recorded. If the person recording is a real loser, he/she will even upload it online for everyone to see just how bad you fu**ed up (if you fu**ed up) or how great of a job you did opening that roof. But the worst part comes when the keyboard critics start questioning what you did and criticizing you and your department. It’s just something we’re going to have to deal with. And guess what? Who gives a shit. We’re all going to eventually forget about it, right? (Unless you’re that guy who falls off the ground ladder on a snow covered garage in Quebec cutting a roof that didn’t need to be cut). Someone is generating some ad revenue with that video because it went so viral.

We must constantly remind fellow firemen who we work with that there’s a good chance that every call we go on will be recorded. It’s just the world we live in. So yes firemen have become in a way “movie stars,” just broke-ass movie stars…

Now let’s get to robots….ugghhh…..This one gets me into trouble, but since most are on my side- sit down. We probably agree more than we disagree…

True Story: My first working fire assigned to a Ladder company in 1997 was a top floor job, so I knew I was opening the roof with the older guy I was working with. I immediately got off the truck all excited and grabbed the chainsaw. I was about to grab a ladder when the older guy said to me, “it’s a slate roof.” So I put the chainsaw down and said to myself, “dumbass, size up the roof next time.” I was in ROBOT MODE from the academy and because MOST roofs in the city are NOT slate! That’s okay, minor mistake, we went up and chopped a hole.

How many times have you: Seen a firefighter wearing turnout gear at a water rescue?!?

Hypothetical: Fire on the first floor of a 8 story MFD with standpipes. Well, the pumper is close to the building, can I use the preconnect? I was ALWAYS told to “hook up on the floor below” so maybe I should just go to the basement and hook up to the outlet and stretch UP the stairs to the first floor and go to the fire, right? (Please don’t agree) Maybe hooking up on the fire floor isn’t a bad idea if conditions are not that bad and the 2 hour fire rated enclosed stairwell offers me protection. I can reach the fire apartment from the fire floor stairwell, but not the floor below, should I wait a few more minutes adding to my already-long reflex time with fire doubling in size every minute or so? My point:

“There’s more than one way to fight a fire, supply water, perform a rescue.

Now for my random rant-

NO- We don’t always need to “lay-in” to a structure fire. That’s what tank water is for. Obviously if you’re in bumblefu*k USA and the 2nd engine is 34 miles away AND the warehouse is heavily involved- Have at it!


NO- We don’t ALWAYS have to hook up on the floor below during a highrise fire. Although we SHOULD when we can, there are SOME circumstances and situations when it may be a better option to use the one on the fire floor or go from the apparatus (nursing home, hospital, underground parking, top floor of a parking garage, mezzanine trash chute, basement laundry room, loading dock compactors, lobby level community room). This should ONLY be done when certain conditions allow for it, and if the officer making the decision believes it will have a successful outcome. Obviously a fire in a 19th floor public hallway in the Bronx is not a time to connect to the fire floor at the outlet IN the hallway. Common sense applies…


NO- We shouldn’t ALWAYS have to wear an SCBA on the roof.  It should be an option. I am willing to compromise on this; maybe some common-ground (such as only on connected structures) I believe based on statistics there’s a far bigger chance of falling off of a peeked roof (SCBA throwing off your balance) than falling through one into a burning attic (most who wear an SCBA are doing it to comply and many do not even have the facepiece on). It hinders the job of getting to the roof, quickly making the cut, and getting down. In urban areas, taking 35’s through exposure homes, over fences, cutting built up roofs etc…it would be much easier without it. Should be a choice..


NO- A 360 size up is NOT always possible, and not always needed. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t if we can, but it’s not always realistic. See article below:


NO- A 2 1/2 handline is not ALWAYS the best choice for a fire in a “commercial” building. That’s bullshit to keep repeating that “all” commercial buildings require a 2 1/2 line. We can’t treat a well advanced big box store with heavy fire in the middle of the night the same as we do a fire inside a small liquor store in the hood. It confuses young firefighters who then become drones and believe they should be dragging  2 1/2 lines into a 25 x 40 hot dog shack or hair salon (a wig shop is a different story!). Consider a taxpayer bodega, small office etc… an 1 3/4 line easily maneuvered and flowing almost 200 GPM may be a better option. Pictured above- The Engine Captain used the proper line (1 3/4) for the configuration of the building with shelving and narrow aisles present during a compartmentalized store fire that had to be located in low visibility. Dragging a 2 1/2 around in this store would’ve been so counterproductive. This was an interior attack without heavy fire conditions present on arrival.


NO- Not ALL vacant/abandoned structures are outside jobs. A hazardous building shouldn’t ALWAYS be defensive. If occupants- especially children are inside, a careful, strategic, methodically calculated attempt must be made to save lives and adjacent properties-SAFELY of course- but to say ALL should be outside jobs- not true…

NO- Freelancing is NOT ALWAYS bad! Some of the best firemen on the fireground are really good freelancers and accomplish a lot of shit in a short amount of time. They don’t have time to be micromanaged, they have shit to do. This doesn’t mean I am encouraging everyone to go off and do their own thing and hide their cute little accountability tags (uugh) it just means that when shit hits the fan, there are some good aggressive firemen who maybe don’t have a particular assignment at the time they dismount the rig, and see something that needs to be done. It’s NOT ALWAYS bad is what I am saying. Those guys can make the chief look good! Stop acting like it’s all irresponsible and shit….

NO- Constructive criticism is NOT “harassment.” It means someone is trying to help you because maybe you suck at something and they want you to not suck at it anymore. I have received it MANY times, and if it’s said sincerely by someone who is’t a douchebag and who doesn’t suck more than I do, I will take that advice and work on improvement, not get a lawyer and sue like a bitch.

NO- I do not need to be lectured on what will happen if I do not decon my gear after a fire. I don’t care what the class said, I really don’t…

NO- 30,000 lb trucks with several hundred gallons of water shouldn’t be used for medical calls. Do I really have to say that?

NO- RIT/FAST assignments should NOT be a “one size fits all” operation. (And what the hell is up with the tarp thing?)


YES- Many of the “safety” rules go out the window during rapid rescues. We should not be writing guys up and criticizing them because they didn’t completely comply with safety procedures or wearing ALL of their PPE or waiting on “2 in 2 out” when seconds count and they’re attempting to save a life..

In closing- Knowing that you’re always being recorded sucks, BUT it’s a reality nowadays, don’t give people ammunition to criticize. If they do anyway, fuk’em…

Let’s teach the younger firefighters (the ones who want to learn because you can’t teach to those who are only there for a paycheck or a title) to not become robots, and teach them how to improvise, adapt, and overcome. That there’s more than one way to complete almost any given task. That they should make it a habit of always having a plan B and C. That it’s okay sometimes to take some calculated risks, break some rules or stray away from an SOP/SOG if it will save a life and have a successful outcome. Let’s help them develop the mindset and skill set to think outside the box if faced with a unique challenge not presented to them during their time in the fire station or fire academy.

Make them “movie stars.”



Live-Burn Training: The Case for Less Red Tape: By Brian Butler

What are the key differences between the modern-day fire service calls and that of the 1970s, 80s and 90s? Back then there wasn’t much talk of closing houses or running EMS due to the lack of fires and other emergency calls. There wasn’t a concern with having to “get numbers up” to justify keeping houses open or preventing staffing cutbacks. Most city departments were running a lot of calls for various reasons.

Fire alarm systems were problematic, causing numerous false alarms. The flip side to that is that these systems weren’t always required, which allowed many fires to progress before being detected. The same goes for sprinklers—they weren’t always required, creating a dangerous situation for everyone involved.


Fire call box false alarms were another big problem, as kids would pull them and run away.

Additionally, before the mid-80s, elevators didn’t have many of the safety features we see today and were constantly stalling in buildings, especially public housing. Vehicle accidents with entrapment were more severe because vehicles were metal shells with no collision protection or the modern safety features of today’s vehicles. Back then it wasn’t uncommon for a single engine or truck company in a busy city to respond to four or five elevator calls, five or six alarms, and a few working fires during one shift.

We will always have fires, but nowhere near as many as there used to be. The time spent occupied at fire scenes, alarm activations and elevator rescues have been replaced with EMS calls, technical rescue training, administrative duties, fire prevention, inspections, incident command, hazmat, etc.

Fires numbers down

So why have fires reduced in such large numbers?


Cell phones: Long before cell phones, when a fire was discovered, the person reporting the fire would have to run to a fire station, seek a fire call box, a working pay phone or find a landline and dial “0” (before 9-1-1) for an operator, who would then determine jurisdiction before reporting the fire. That process usually took several minutes, and with fire doubling in size every minute or so, fires progressed before the station even got the alarm. Now, with cell phones, anyone on the street seeing smoke calls 9-1-1 and within one minute, the fire department is alerted.


Smoke detectors: Nowadays, most buildings must have a smoke detector—by law. And fire departments often install free smoke detectors for those in need. Smoke detectors have also become more modern, advanced and inexpensive. With new laws, codes, fire prevention activities, and education programs promoted by schools and local media, far more homes and businesses now have working smoke detectors. There are fire safety campaigns, constant reminders regarding smoke detectors and battery changes as well as a dedicated fire prevention month (October).


Advancements in electrical protection: From ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault interrupters (AFCIs) to electric wiring, electrical outlets, breaker panels and lighting, the advancements have been incredible in preventing fires.


Heaters: It used to be common to use kerosene heaters for warmth. This was very common when people couldn’t afford to pay their utility bill and would have their power shut off by the local utility company, therefore resorting to these types of heaters. This resulted in many fires—often with numerous fatalities—when accidents would occur with candles being used for light or the heaters for warmth. Many local laws now prevent the use of kerosene heaters. It’s also illegal now for utility companies to turn off the power for non-payment in certain conditions, such as colder months. In addition, the number of people using the oven to heat their home has been reduced, and oil burners have been phased out in new construction in favor of gas heat.

Smoking laws: The health-focused campaigns against smoking have come a long way. Laws preventing smoking in public have been even more effective, especially from a fire prevention standpoint. The days of smoking in airplanes, restaurants, schools and the workplace are also over. As crazy as it sounds, they even used to allow smoking in theaters! Careless smoking was a common cause of many fires, and these laws have had a significant and positive impact on the number of fires to which firefighters must respond.

Arson: There’s been a reduction in arson over the years for many reasons. Advances in forensic and video technology make it easier for insurance companies and law enforcement to prosecute “insurance burns” and fires concealing violent crimes. The car theft phenomenon of the early-90s led to a high number of vehicle fires. Car thieves would abandon vehicles and burn them in alleys and parking lots to destroy evidence (before surveillance cameras were everywhere). The popularity of stealing cars just to joyride and torch them has decreased dramatically, too. It also used to be common for kids and teenagers to light fires in dumpsters and other areas when they were bored. Nowadays, kids are consumed with computers, iPhones, cable television, and would probably have a difficult time figuring out how to strike a match.


Cooking: Can you imagine NOT having a microwave oven? Before microwaves, food would have to be heated on the stove or inside the oven. There were no George Foreman grills or microwave-ready meals to be made. Cooking was more common, and careless cooking caused many fires. Cooking fires still happen, but they have been greatly reduced because of modern ovens, ranges and microwaves.

Trash chutes: Many residential high rises have reduced fires in the trash chutes by adding sprinklers, UL-rated doors, or eliminating the trash chutes altogether. They are now part of inspections for the building. Banning smoking inside of these buildings has also eliminated the most common causes of trash chute fires. Currently, most of these buildings are required to have smoke detectors and a monitored alarm system, even if they are NOT required to have sprinklers.

What this means for fire departments

Fires will keep decreasing as time moves forward. The days of catching three or more jobs per tour is gone. Unless there’s civil unrest (Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles), it would be rare nowadays for even the busiest companies in fire departments to catch three jobs per tour. There are exceptions, of course, like Detroit.

The fire service has added services to keep busy but will be fighting fewer structure fires. While this is great for citizens and firefighter safety alike, it also means that firefighters who respond to only a few fires a year have limited opportunities to learn their craft on the job.

For a highly motivated new firefighter seeking the adrenaline rush of a fire every tour, they will have to replace this on-the-job experience with more training. Acquired structures are the most realistic fire training method, but the use of acquired structures has been difficult because of liability and environmental laws. This red tape, often in addition to a lack of resources needed to conduct live-burn training, can prevent many departments from going this route.

Can firefighters who work in departments that run 90 percent EMS perform efficiently at the annual working fire? Training at the academy burn house, the fire station or using props is OK, but it is not as effective as the training received at an actual structure, especially when it comes to live burns, roof ventilation, searches and forcible entry.

I personally believe that the red tape to acquire these structures should be reduced, remaining for only the obvious concerns, like structural stability.  

For departments having difficulty with acquiring structures to conduct training and burns, it may be time to contact local representatives to work on changing the applicable EPA laws (or adopted laws). This will be difficult.

In addition, there have been several live-burn training exercises that have resulted in firefighters being seriously injured or killed due to inappropriate supervision or failure to comply with the necessary safety guidelines. Rather than punishing the fire service as a whole, we should hold these individuals accountable and allow for more realistic training to be offered with strict, responsible supervision.

We can’t keep relying on the sole method of training new firefighters to advance lines into a burn house to knock down smoldering hay or having them squat in a shipping container to “observe” signs of flashover. Sending a young firefighter who lacks real-time interior attack experience down a dark hallway in a compartmentalized structure with intense heat, zero visibility and rollover present is far more dangerous than 99.9 percent of live-burn training. The fire service needs more realistic training, and that starts with changing the red tape to acquire structures and conduct the training. This would mean changing EPA laws and NFPA 1403 standards. (Good luck with that!)

The federal and state EPA/DEP has requirements for removing asbestos and other materials they deem environmentally harmless. Asphalt shingles, lead paint, aluminum siding etc.. (We can remove them by burning them!) But then we would have to deal with the clean air act.
Buildings burn every single day in every state with “all the above” burning. Does the EPA/DEP enforce any laws with the building owners? (No) So why do it when training firefighters for real time fire training? It’s ridiculous if you ask me. Hundreds of homes burn every week in the U.S, but I don’t see any extreme environmental impact with adding several structure burns for training.
Another problem is “preparing” the structure to NFPA 1403 standards. This can be expensive, time consuming, and it also contributes to further stripping away the real-time fire experience. In my opinion, it’s lowering the standards. Imagine if the fire department can find out ahead of time that an individual is not made for this profession. Someone who is petrified and panics at the thought of HEAT and ZERO VISIBILITY is a danger to others who are stuck working with them. What’s the fear when you know you’re in a “fireproof” environment with 5 instructors holding your hand, straw smoke, low temperatures, pre-made vent holes, 3 emergency egress exits ADDED to the structure, and contents removed to prevent a flow path? And that’s AFTER a briefing and a walk-through BEFORE the fire is ignited. We don’t have that luxury in the field.
There’s also a good amount of paperwork involved. Maybe they can reduce the amount of paperwork and let adults sign waivers.
While no one would disagree that NFPA 1403’s intentions are well meaning, especially after several firefighters lost their lives with irresponsible training scenarios WHERE THEY WERE NOT FOLLOWING THE STANDARDS ANYWAY,  most of us agree that common sense standards for structural stability, removing utilities, notifying neighbors, and having qualified instructors-safety officers on scene is non-negotiable. But the board should revisit the standards and reduce some of the more burdensome common sense standards to make it easier to burn the many available acquired structures.
Another suggestion is to use the solid burn houses already structurally safe and asbestos free at most fire academies (that are now currently only permitted to use propane or certain Class A materials) and let them burn furniture and other combustibles that are present at a structure fire.
I understand that these will be difficult, but it’s also dangerous to not test the metal of firefighters before assigning them to a company. If not, the first bad fire for a probie could be his/her last. Not every fire is a simple room and contents fire venting out the windows on arrival.
I am sure they can remove and reduce several standards, and suggest waivers for EPA/DEP standards. I know they can’t remove MOST of the standards, and it will be difficult to change current environmental laws, but I believe they should. Thoughts?


Posted: August 17, 2017 in Roof, Suppression, Uncategorized


By Brian Butler

“Yea yea I know, we’re supposed to do a 360° size up upon arriving at a structure fire.” Easier said than done.

For firefighters in urban environments with rowhomes, taxpayers, semi-detached homes, high rises, MFD’s, fortified gates and fences that prevent access, the 360° size up isn’t always going to be possible. This is when performing a 3 sided 270° is going to have to suffice. There are times when you’re initially going to have to go with a 2 sided 180° (photo) size up. When getting to the rear can be difficult for the first arriving company, take a quick peek down the sides of the building and look for indicators that the rear will be of major concern.


“Bump outs”

If the only exterior access to the rear are through narrow alley walks between the homes, or obstructions are present that will delay your recon of the rear, keep in mind that you may lose your fire. Taking those extra few minutes because you feel you just have to get to the rear because “that’s what were supposed to do” or you read it in some tactics book, don’t be surprised when you return to the front of the building and realize that another company “stole” your fire!


The 180° Size Up: Obviously the first due engine preparing for fire attack will have a difficult time getting to the rear of this taxpayer. The quick 2-sided 180° size up looking at the A side and down the B side while preparing for entry can tell you alot about this building. Determine the location, extent and access to the fire. Truck companies take note of the wires, fence, dumpster, and awning obstructions on the A and B sides. This 180° will quickly indicate difficulty with ground ladder placement.

The first arriving officer will have his hands full noting numerous size up factors. During a 270°, what signs can we look for on arrival where that report from the rear is going to HAVE to be made a top priority?


Lets say you have fire showing in the front bedroom windows on arrival and the rear looks clear from the B-D side peek down the alley between the homes. That’s a good time to assign another company, the RIT team, or the battalion chief to get you a report from the rear. If you arrive and there’s a column coming from the back of the house or a glow in the rear yard, that’s a sign a report is top priority. It must be checked and a report given to the attack team before entry or upon advancing if possible.


When the entire row of homes on the block are connected with no access to the rear, there may be an alley or street behind it. This is a perfect opportunity for the smaller chiefs vehicle to drive down and report any dangerous conditions from the rear. This information will also help the responding Battalion Chief with his strategy and tactics plan.


A 360° size up sounds nice, but it isn’t always possible. Doing a 180° or a 270° is very effective, realistic, and should only take a few seconds.


When you’re looking down those B and D sides of a structure, check for that glow or column in the rear, and then determine how important that last 90° is going to be.

Firehouse.com article on the 270° size-up




Have you ever thought about how many propane tanks are located in your response area? Considering propane tanks supply LPG to barbecue grills, food trucks, forklifts, heaters, cars, buses, sanitation trucks, RV’s, and handheld propane torches, there may be hundreds of propane cylinders in your response district. Small 20 lb tanks are commonly used for gas grills on residential properties, while larger LPG storage tanks are located at commercial businesses, hardware stores, gas stations, industrial areas, and underground.

Every firefighter should be familiar with the dangers or propane, NOT just company officers and members of the hazmat team. The nozzleman on the engine company is the one who is closest to burning vehicles, dumpsters, and buildings. It’s especially important for the urban fireman to become familiar with the properties of propane, and how to deal with leaks vs fires involving tanks and cylinders.

What is propane?

Propane and butane are the two major LPG gases extracted and used in the gas industry. About 70% of propane is processed from natural gas. Propane is colorless and odorless in its natural state, but a commercial odorant is added so it can be detected if it leaks. The most common used odorant is ethyl mercaptan.

LP-gases belong to a family of chemical compounds known as alkane hydrocarbons, meaning they are made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms only. Propane is 1.5 times heavier than air. The combustible materials in propane are carbon and hydrogen (hydrocarbons). The oxygen needed to burn propane vapor is obtained from the air. Air is made up of 20% oxygen, 79% nitrogen and 1% other gases. Any ignition source must provide enough heat to the mixture of fuel and oxygen to raise the temperature of the propane to its ignition temperature, which is between 920°F and 1,120°F. The flammable limits (explosive range) for propane: LEL 2.15% UEL 9.60%


When responding to a reported LPG barbecue grill fire involving a propane tank, the initial company officers concerns should be exposures, and the possibility of a BLEVE. Upon arrival, try to determine what’s burning, where it’s burning, whether the relief valve has activated, exposure issues, and the size of the tank. This will help determine the initial actions on apparatus placement, strategy and tactics. The gas grill fire may turn out to be a grease fire or food burning with no threat to the propane tank. It’s possible the hose leading to the tank regulator may be burning and the flame is being fed by the propane from the tank. These can easily be handled by extinguishing the fire with an ABC fire extinguisher, water can, removing the oxygen by closing the lid of the grill, or closing the cylinder valve supplying the tank (righty-tighty). Stretch a handline to protect exposures such as exterior siding, overhead awnings, or a deck. Use a 30° fog pattern in the vapor space of the propane tank if the cylinder is threatened by flame impingement.

REMEMBER: Never extinguish an unisolated pressure fed flammable gas fire unless the fuel source can be isolated. Leaking gas can migrate away from the container and may find another ignition source.

If there’s no fire visible and it’s only an LPG leak (detected by smell of ethyl mercaptan odorant) eliminate any sources of ignition (pilot burner, cigarettes, lighter, electric motors, switches, flares, static discharges, cell phones) evacuate the area, and ventilate nearby structures using PPV. Use a CGI (Combustible Gas Indicators) to determine the level of flammable vapors in the area, determine the source, and control the release. Take readings in nearby structures and basements as a precaution. REMEMBER: Propane is heavier than air and will settle in low areas. (Propane vapor density is 1.52 at 60°F.)

TIP: Propane flammable range is 2.15 – 9.60. Each cubic foot of liquid propane will boil off 270 cubic feet of propane vapor.

Any decision to approach a propane tank showing direct flame impingement on its vapor space must be made on a case-by-case basis after evaluating the hazards and risks, and determining if an adequate water supply has been established. If you arrive to hear a jet engine sound, evacuate the area, stretch a line, and prepare to take cover. The relief valve has activated and a high pressure flame should be visible. Most likely the cylinder valve connection is cross-threaded or leaking. Any flame impingement on the vapor space will heat the propane tanks shell; the tank will have to be cooled to prevent a BLEVE. From a safe area such as the corner of the home or a garage, wearing full PPE, cool the cylinder with a line before approaching to shutoff the flow of propane gas, or play it safe and just cool the tank and let the LPG burn off. Again, decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis as tanks can fail within minutes of direct flame impingement.


Firefighters should be aware that a functioning PRV (Pressure Relief Valve) on a burning propane tank is not a reliable indication that the tank is safe to approach or a reliable indicator of when or if the tank may fail.

TIP: A propane tank contains liquid and vapor. Fire heats the tank shell in the vapor space area more rapidly than the liquid area.  By the time steel reaches 1,800°F it has lost 90% of its strength. A propane tank will eventually relieve pressure either through a split in the tank in form of a jet flame, or the container fails. In most cases, the PRV will function early in the fire. If the valve handle has melted away, a pair of vise grips can be used to shut the valve, BUT it would be much safer to just let the gas burn off while cooling the tank from a safe distance.


This propane tank fire was caused by a cross threaded hose connection. The leaking gas caught fire and raged around the tank outlet. The tank was connected to a grill that was up against the home causing the siding to melt. An 1 3/4 hoseline with a fog nozzle should be used to go back and forth cooling the tank and extinguishing the exposed siding of the house until a second line is in service. If upon arrival to a gas grill propane tank fire with exposure to the home you notice the relief valve is activated and the jet engine sound is present, KEEP BACK a good distance and cool the tank from an area of protection such as the side of a house, behind a garage or large vehicle. If the home is starting to catch fire, go for a 2 1/2 line for more reach from the safer distance. Upgrade the incident to a full structure assignment and request Hazmat response.

TACTICAL OBJECTIVES: The primary tactical objective is to cool the outside of the portable cylinder protecting the shell and reduce the pressure to the point that the pressure relief valve closes and the cylinder valve can be manually closed. The secondary objective is to protect exposures, extinguish any structure fires, check for extension, and monitor nearby structures for propane gas.

TIP: Propane pressure regulators are designed to control propane vapor pressure. They reduce the higher gas vapor pressure inside the storage container to a lower and more constant pressure, which is necessary to operate gas appliances like heaters, stoves, safely and efficiently. NFPA 58 requires the use of two-stage regulator systems for most fixed installations in buildings. NFPA also requires that all 20lb cylinders be equipped with an OPD (Overfill Protection Device).


Vehicles: Propane is often transported via railcars and delivery trucks. Other vehicle uses are LPG vehicles, forklifts, buses, food trucks, and RV’s. LPG powered passenger vehicles must have their PRV’s vented to the outside of the vehicle. They are required by NFPA 58 to be identified with a diamond shaped label on the lower right rear of the vehicle with the letters “PROPANE” on the silver or white reflective badging.

First arriving officers should immediately suspect and be aware of propane tanks on RV’s, forklifts, and food trucks. Transport trucks with large storage tanks are obvious, and LPG passenger vehicles have badging placards on the back (pic above). Some vehicles could have 20 lb LPG tanks located in the trunk, or in the bed of pickup trucks. Unsuspecting firemen may be approaching a dangerous situation if they’re not aware of hidden propane tanks being heated during a vehicle fire. One sign is an activated relief valve or pressurized flame with a loud jet engine sound. Like any modern day vehicle fire, be cautious when approaching vehicle fires. If the occupant is present, ask him/her if there are any gasoline/propane tanks or any other hazardous materials in the trunk.

If called to investigate an odor of propane gas in a parking garage or parking lot, check to see if there are any LPG vehicles. Once identified, use CGI’s to investigate the source and obtain readings. Evacuate people from the area, control ignition sources, identify the source of the leaking propane, and stop the leak if it can safely be done. The fuel tank will usually be in the trunk and will need to be opened to access the tank valves and fittings. DISCONNECT THE BATTERY before you open the trunk. The contact switch for the truck light is a potential source of ignition.

If the LPG powered vehicle is heavily involved in fire, prepare for a possible BLEVE. Evacuate the area, request police for traffic control and from a maximum and safe distance, protect any exposures from the vehicle fire or pressurized flame coming from the vehicle (although rare, the PRV can fail). When the PRV is properly activated, it should not be an indicator that a BLEVE will not occur. After a risk/benefit analysis, unless there’s an occupant trapped in the burning vehicle or in immediate danger, let the LPG burn off; the vehicle can be replaced.


How many times during an entire career will the average firefighter respond to a propane leak or fire involving a forklift? These are extremely rare incidents, but they do happen. First arriving crews must quickly and carefully determine whether or not the propane tank is involved, rescue priorities, exposure problems, evacuation, and requesting additional resources if needed.

Forklifts are powered by motor fuel service propane cylinders that are usually configured to supply liquid propane to the engine rather than the vapor. They can have as many as five openings in the service end of the cylinder. Fittings may be threaded or flanged. Each service valve opening is marked for either vapor or liquid service. Most cylinders are equipped with a PRV (Pressure Relief Valve) set to function at 375 psi. If the forklift is on fire and the tank is threatened by heat or flame exposure, stretch two handlines and cool the tank while extinguishing any fire involving the forklift. Wet any exposure combustibles if necessary. Keep a safe distance, evacuate any workers nearby and let the LPG burn off while cooling tank from maximum distance. Extinguish the fire involving the forklift (NOT THE TANK!) and apply a 30° fog at the vapor space for several minutes before making any decision to approach and close the tank supply. Contact the local propane marketer for technical assistance in removing and disposing the cylinder.

TIP: Motor fuel cylinders can rupture under fire conditions even if the PRV (Pressure Relief Valve) is not functioning.


Dumped Tanks: In urban areas, 20 lb propane cylinders are often dumped in alleys, dumpsters and vacant lots. Be suspect of tanks or disposed cylinders in dumpsters, garages, sheds, and even basements during structure fires. These tanks were discovered under a trailer behind a block away from the fire station.

Firefighters arriving to a dumpster fire should assume that hazardous materials may be present and approach with caution. If you hear hissing sounds coming from a well-involved commercial dumpster, it might be a relief valve blowing off. Although propane emergencies and BLEVE’s are rare, preparing for them by being proactive can save firefighters from injuries.

Close Call: Watch Propane Explosion During Fire In Maine-Click Here.

This explosion engulfed a forklift with the operator barely escaping with his life. See the full story and more video at The Blaze.


Above: The first due engine found a fully involved fire in a camper trailer with propane tanks venting and fire extending to the garage. Firemen were able to quickly control fire and extinguish the fire approximately 20 minutes after arrival. Quick action by fire department personnel prevented the fire from extending to the residence, and the possibility of an explosion of the propane tanks.


Be careful when approaching a fire involving an RV. The propane tanks can be anywhere, including under the vehicle. Use caution and locate them to see if the relief valve has activated, or fire is threatening the tanks.

DO NOT always assume that the activation of a relief valve will prevent a BLEVE. See VIDEO here.

Sources: Propane Emergencies 3rd Edition  UrbanFireTraining


Every minute of the day brings the potential for a machinery rescue response. Think about it, how many vehicle extrications are there in the U.S. every single day? How many rings are cut off by rescue companies and emergency room personnel every single day? How many kids get their fingers stuck in toys, bicycle parts, or their head stuck between railings every single day?


Photo by Brian Butler

If we put vehicle extrication aside, many common machinery rescues are minor extrications, disentanglement, disassembles, cutting, lubing, or simply repositioning someone out of a pinch. But think about all the potential entrapment, pin, crush, and stuck limb incidents that can happen in your response area.

Photo by Brian Butler: Old vertical baler compactor in a Trenton NJ warehouse.

Machinery responses can involve trains, elevators, escalators, industrial, manufacturing plant machinery, conveyor belts, commercial kitchens, amusement parks, car washes, correctional facilities, auto shops, hospitals, appliances, food processing plants, and fitness centers to name a few. Have you ever thought about accidents that could possibly happen that would require a machinery rescue response? How many people are operating ATV’s (all terrain vehicles) snow blowers, presses, slicers, grinders, construction and agricultural equipment in your response area?

Believe it, the potential is there!

Photo by Brian Butler: Trenton Transit Station.

Kids clothing or limbs caught in escalators can have deadly results, and will require extrication, and disassembly.

After attending a “Man vs Machinery” class at the New York State Technical Rescue Conference, put on by PL Vulcan Training it took no less than a week to put together a well-equipped machinery tool box. They are relatively inexpensive to put together and each kit should be equipped for the type of response area it will serve. Urban areas will differ from rural areas (agriculture vs industrial). The tool boxes are great for practicing skills like removal and cutting of rings, meat grinders, pvc pipe, railings, or fishing stuck fingers out of fuel fillers. The training and use of numerous tools and tricks of the trade make firemen more creative when it comes to thinking outside the box, which can contribute to a successful rescue someday.

You never know when a freak accident will happen on your watch. Every firefighter should highly consider attending a “Man vs Machine” training day.


Photo by Brian Butler: NY Technical Rescue Conference, Montour Falls NY 


Norristown PA: Members of Rescue 21 and elements of the Southeastern Montgomery County Technical Rescue Task Force and King of Prussia Rescue 47 were dispatched to Morabito Bakery in Norristown for a subject with his arm caught in a processing machine. The crew arrived and blended into the manpower pool helping gather equipment, assisting the medics, and formulating Plan B, C, and D. Team leaders from Montgomery County USAR also arrived to lend their expertise. After approximately 40 minutes of dismantling and cutting the machine, the subject was freed and transported by medics.

Below is a machinery tool box and a compiled list of potential accidents and incidents just waiting to happen, including types of occupancies where they might occur. It should make one realize that it’s very possible that the machinery tool box will eventually be utilized, or utilized again.




Above photos by Brian Butler

Below: A list of tools to consider when creating a machinery kit:


Tools (continued) and occupancies where accidents might occur.


Car wash incident.


As you can see, the potential is there for these high risk/low frequency incidents.

MURPHY’S LAW: Imagine a scenario where a single truck company is dispatched for a stalled elevator. Upon arrival, the company officer notices the elevator is stuck on the 7th floor. He sends the low man up to the penthouse to secure the power and makes his way up to floor seven. The low man enters the roof area and hears loud screaming coming from the elevator machine room. Upon opening the penthouse door, he sees an elevator repairman with his arm caught in the drive sheave of a traction elevator.

This is most likely an amputation at best, and a serious machinery accident. This fireman has been to over 50 elevator calls, but didn’t expect this. Having knowledge of elevators and machinery rescue may help with initial actions in this particular scenario. Power shutdown, stabilizing (chocking), requesting additional resources, medics, rescue company, building maintenance, elevator engineer and disassembly comes to mind immediately. If his tool belt/box is present, it may have the tools needed to take apart the drive machine around his arm once movement and power secure.

(Of course safety features and precautions used when repairing elevators have come a long way since the 1980’s, but this has happened before.)

The point here is, you never know.

For more on machinery rescue, visit PL Vulcan Training Concept

For more on elevators, visit UrbanFireTraining.Com

Photos by Brian Butler: Machinery and Agricultural Rescue training at the NY State Technical Rescue Conference held at the New York State Fire Academy.




By Brian Butler (This is an extended post to the article in Firehouse Magazine March 2018 Issue (pg 66)

With the recent rapid decline in our economy during the last several years including the increased epidemic of homelessness, we are seeing a large increase in hazardous vacant, abandoned and dilapidated structures in our urban and industrial areas.

These structures are usually taken over by vagrants, vandals, gang members, drug users and copper thieves. The boarded up doors and windows are no match for squatters who easily remove the board ups and occupy these abandoned buildings. The age and neglect of these structures are further damaged by weather, especially in the northeast where rain snow and cold weather penetrate open doors, windows, and roofs. These buildings are loaded with combustible trash and clothing when occupied by squatters and are targets for arsonists and thieves who steal aluminum siding, copper pipes, furnaces etc… Others use the building for shelter during freezing weather using small fires inside for heat. These buildings are becoming death traps for firefighters across the U.S.

More firefighters are injured in vacant buildings than any other property according to the NFPA. There are many dangers that contribute to those statistics such as delayed discovery, holes in the floors, missing stairs, hoarding conditions and collapse to name a few. It’s important that these buildings are marked to identify them as hazardous.


While driver training or returning from a call, take notice of these buildings and inspect them. Go out on a Sunday or training day and look for these buildings that your company members will be responding to. A placard and a can of spray paint is inexpensive and just may save the life of a firefighter someday.

The IFC (International Fire Code) provides a guideline for marking vacant structures. Your department may have an SOP/SOG that provides information similar to the IBC.

*A placard with an open square: Normal structural conditions at time of inspection.

*A placard with a single diagonal slash: There are interior hazards to the building and interior operations should only be considered with extreme caution.

*A placard with an ‘X’ in the square: Significant structural deficiencies in the building. Exterior firefighting operations only UNLESS a known life hazard exists.

Other marking systems are similar to the IBC with additional identification “R/O” (Roof Open) or “F/O” (Floor Open) to identify the absence of a floor.

The following buildings (13) below were all identified in just a two block radius in a city with over 6000 vacant structures per 7.5 square miles.

This structure above didn’t look as bad from the front as it did from the D and C side. From the front, you couldn’t see any signs of an open roof or partial collapse in the rear. The rear of these buildings are usually where vagrant traffic comes in and out.

Be cautious marking hazardous abandoned buildings where unpredictable trespassing vagrants high on drugs are present. They may act hostile towards firefighters inspecting the property.

If there are piles of trash in the alley between the homes , there’s plenty of combustible trash inside as well. Watch for needles as these properties are a haven for drug users.

Mark buildings on one way streets in the direction of travel so they are more visible to first due companies. Marking the boarded up doors should be secondary as they can be removed/replaced. ID the building wall if possible.

Open windows will produce rotted floor decking over time. Rain and snow makes its way in through openings and weakens the floor. Vacant buildings with prior fires should still be marked. This “occupied vacant” (pictured right) had 3 fires before finally going through the roof before it was finally demolished.

When doing inspections for dangerous buildings in your district, make sure the rear is inspected. What may look acceptable from the front can be disastrous in the back. When you see high weeds, littered piles of trash and even trees growing out of the home, chances are it’s a hazardous building. The reasons many of these homes are not demolished are usually due to a lack of funding to do so, or a problem involving the owner of the property.

Mark these dangerous buildings according to your SOP/SOG’s or local AHJ and stay safe!



What a well coordinated attack looks like. Water application and ventilation.

What an uncoordinated attack looks like. Breaking windows well before line charged.

Read the smoke. Pre-flashover warning. Windows being broken, no water applied.