Archive for the ‘Roof’ Category


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. article on the 270° size-up





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!