Thursday, December 8, 2011

Snow Loaded Roof Considerations

Snow Loaded Roof Considerations

With the recent multiple snowstorm incidents in the Northeast, the fire service needs to take a look up before we commit to an interior or exterior operation. The type of structural material, design and condition all play a big part on whether that snow load is going to be a problem for our companies.

Yesterday I took a few minutes to travel around my response district and took an assessment of any potential hazards to my company. I was surprised to find that more than ¾ of the dwellings in my district were still heavily loaded with snow.

In this photo: Older Farmhouse with a noted sagging porch roof

When we arrive at a reported building fire, the dwelling’s snow load should be directly considered when the incident commander determines a strategic plan. The potential of a roof collapse before the fire started should be a consideration as well. The structural support system holding all that snow may be directly or indirectly under attack by “the fire”, and that can add to the potential early onset building collapse. Another consideration should be on newer dwellings constructed with a lightweight “truss-roof” system. As seen in many past fire tests, a lightweight truss roof system once assaulted by fire fails at an alarming rate. None of those fire tests were ever conducted with a snow load as seen by our companies this week.

Farmers porch buildup that hinders normal 8/12 pitch roof snow slide

Heat loss from a building may result in some snow loss through melting between storm events. Roofs that allow heat loss to melt snow are called "warm roofs”. This may be by design or lack of proper insulation. Other roof systems remove lost heat before it has a chance to melt the snow. These roofs that prevent heat from reaching the snow are known as "cold" roofs. Sometimes buildings are either unheated during winter months or are intentionally kept at or below freezing so there is no heat loss that results in snow melt or ice build-up.

This photo displays both a Warm Roof (on top) and Cold Roof (porch)

One factor that needs to be considered by incident command is how does the FD safely commit to an interior firefight while considering the level of danger? What are the dangers to be considered? Well it is not as easy as what you see from the street. Understanding building construction has never been more important when you add-in snow loads. Do you expect normal tasks like fire suppression and search/rescue to be done quickly when firefighters encounter delayed ventilation? Interior companies will certainly encounter an under-ventilated fire condition. Interior conditions will not be the same as operating during the spring, summer or fall months. Ladder companies will certainly have a delay in providing vertical ventilation due to lack of access to the roof, snow banks that limit truck access, carrying a ground ladder in deep snow is difficult at best, and access to the physical roof that may be buried 18-36 inches below the snow. Adding firefighters to a potentially overloaded roof can trigger collapse as well. Not too often do we ask the truck company to bring a snow shovel with them to just find the roof’s surface. Attempting to stay on the aerial to get the job done safely? Well good luck trying to shovel from there. These delays will definitely change the interior company’s exposure to extreme heat build up and unique fire dynamics.

Lightweight Construction – Very Large Farmers Porches are great snow load collectors

Every firefighter on the fire ground from the Fire Chief right down to the newest firefighter needs to stay alert to signs of overhead hazards during the winter month operations. There has been a lot of focus on building collapse lately but staying cognizant to potential heavy snow or ice slides, that can cause serious personal injury or death to responders. This type of overhead assessment must be done on arrival and continued to be monitored as the incident is mitigated.

For you incident commanders, this is an excellent point to add to your exterior safety officer’s checklist. We need to also stay alert for any signs of a building weakened by the fire or pre-fire snow loading, listening for strange noises of the building settling under the unusual load, noting any visual signs of sagging roof eaves or leaning / bowing / separating wall connections, interior wall board cracking or noting water seeping from above are all positive indicators of a potential collapse is pending.

If you choose to go interior and aggressively mitigate from underneath, I highly recommend using my expanded command team approach to managing an incident and assigning an Interior Safety Officer to assess these specific hazards. As we all know, our initial interior companies are many times taxed beyond their control and may miss some of these potentially lifesaving signs of danger ahead.

Bottom line is the fire service should use a strong risk verse gain decision making model, and chose the appropriate model to get the job done as safely as we can.

Take care and stay safe.

FETC Services

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Advanced Search and Rescue Using - "Adult Victim Profiling"

We all understand the mission of the fire service. Upon arrival to a given building fire, the fire department’s number one priority is “Life Safety”. If we have any possible chance of locating and rescuing an occupant, we must start a rapid and systematic primary search. Many smaller fire departments in the United States with limited manpower are forced to perform search and rescue from the engine company's hose line. The assignment of search and rescue is a difficult and often dangerous task for firefighters.

Fortunately for many fire departments, modern technology has aided the search team with the introduction of the thermal imaging camera. The TIC and the use of victim profiling can potentially expedite the primary search. We have all been taught the basics of size-up for potential rescue indicators like type of occupancy, time of day, vehicles in the driveway, childrens toys, etc. These are all very important “visual indicators” when nobody is outside upon our arrival. Uncontrollable factors in which the fire department are challenged with are pre-arrival exposure time of the victim to super-heated and toxic gases causing serious and/or fatal respiratory injuries.

OK, so the first due officer has decided to enter the structure and start a primary search. The crew should start on the fire floor. If possible search the fire room first, then the remaining fire floor. Once the primary all clear is given, crews should work to the floor above the fire. As you know, basic search training has taught us that toys for example can identify the presence of small children, unable to egress without assistance. Firefighters have been trained to process this vital information and adjust our search techniques accordingly.

This article is on "Advanced Building Search and Rescue – while using Adult Victim Profiling" so, let’s talk specifically about this profile. If and when you locate an “Unconscious Adult Victim” the search team should quickly assess the victim’s body positioning and note the direction of travel for a profile pattern. Fire Investigators have used this technique along with other physical evidence, to obtain the victim’s activity and movement prior to becoming incapacitated.

Statistically, adult male victims are more likely to sustain thermal insult injuries or death while investigating or attempting to fight an incipient stage fire than do women. With this said, an adult male occupant will be more likely to be located by the rescue company in the general area of the fire’s origin or potentially attempting to get back to the sleeping area to assist with his spouse. Body position is the key to understanding any potential thoughts and movements of the victim. If the adult male victim is located in a well involved room for example, he may have been overcome during the attempt to locate or extinguish the fire. If he was located on the stairs though, especially heading up the staircase toward the suspected sleeping areas, the victim is likely heading back to assist with the notification and the evacuation of a spouse and/or possible children.

Now for adult female occupant, generally speaking they are more likely to be found incapacitated while attempting to assist with the evacuation of a child or loved one. (elderly in-law) Profiling a female victim who is found in a hallway or stairwell can potentially assist the rescue company with locating other victims within the area. When the search company finds an adult female occupant, they should look at her body position and direction of travel. Which way was she heading? A female victim that has become incapacitated and was heading AWAY from the normal entry or egress point is potentially screaming “MY KIDS ARE THAT WAY."

If the search and rescue company lets the adrenaline rush overcome their conscious thought process, they can easily miss valuable information. Never, never, never just grab a victim and start heading for the door without assessing their position and direction of travel. Take a second to look at the “victim profiling pattern” with their position, location and possible direction of travel. This valuable but often missed information obtained from the adult unconscious victim combined with some other “traditional” basic size up patterns as previously stated, may expedite the search for any remaining victims. Even though the victim is unconscious, their body position can talk to you. Remember to keep your cool and assess the situation to maximize your obtainable information. We as fire service leaders and educators must continue to strive for ways to work safer, rescue victims faster and provide the best service possible with whatever means and capabilities we have for our community.

Lt. Greenwood is a Pro-Board Certified Level III Fire Instructor and Owner of FETC Services. Billy also hosts the Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio Show "Tap The Box with FETC Services". Check us out at

Friday, April 29, 2011

Personal Firefighter Survival In These Tough Economic Times

By Lieutenant Billy Greenwood, FETC Services - All Rights Reserved

I want to welcome everyone to our new Fire Engineering Blog and would like to quickly introduce our training group to the community. FETC Services is located in Southwestern New Hampshire and offers Advanced Firefighter, Safety/Survival and Officer Development Seminars throughout the United States. We made the trip to present our Interior Benchmarking Concept his year at FDIC 2011 and had a wonderful time networking with many of you. Would like to extend a big thank you to Chief Bobby Halton, Scott and Byron for making this venture become reality. In the future, you will see material from FETC specific to our problems, target hazards, and solutions focused to the smaller city brother, in a paid and/or combination fire department setting. Stay tuned for the official announcement from FE for our live talk radio blog coming May 20th, 2011 called "Tap the Box" with FETC.

Personal Firefighter Survival In These Tough Economic Times -

This is for all who are currently earning a living in the Fire or Emergency Services field. How do we continue to survive in these tough economic times? Luckily enough we are afforded with the opportunity to have the job you always wanted... as some call it "My dream job".

In this day and age of shrinking operational budgets and public outcry for reducing the bottom dollar, eventually the FD personnel line item is going to have to take a hit. Hopefully any and all expendables have been scrutinized with a sharp pencil, maintenance has been stretched, paid details, paid training, or in-house committees, and OT coverage goes before the line brothers get the axe. But what if your Fire Chief, who has already been your "Protector" in the past is now under the microscope of his or her boss, for more?

We as brothers must "pay it forward" everyday, every shift, every call. Believe it or not, I struggled through a previous economic downside with the economy back in the 80's. To be honest back then I wasn't in my dream job yet but I was making a honest living turning wrenches for a major brand car dealership now gone bankrupt and bailed out by us recently. I was one of a handful who recieved "pink slips" from the owner of the dealership. Did I see it coming? Absolutely not, I was young and naive I guess, just a month before the pink slip was presented I was accepting a fresh turkey for a Thanksgiving bonus from that same owner who made an announcement that the company was struggling in the "current organizational structure". Just after Christmas Day, I was handed my very last paycheck that had a pink slip stapled to the envelope...

Wow, the economic times back then were far less dire than today but let me tell you I had bills, expenses and payments that were in need of a paycheck. Did I survive, yes I did. Was it easy? Well, it was easier because I was single, not married or nor did I have three children relying on my financial well being.

So as we are awaiting the Obama Stimulis Plan to become fruition, how can we personally survive the current economic crisis that we are currently feeling? I for one, was hoping for a big fat check in the mail to payoff my mortgage but it appears "that ain't gonna happen" either.

My first suggestion is to make ourselves as marketable as possible to our bosses. When I say our bosses, I mean our taxpayers. Now is the time to come in early or stay late if needed. We should be making the most of what we got, with our tools, equipment, gear and appreciate the fact that we are still employed. We should be working as hard as ever to produce the greatest product or service for the customer.

Product? What the heck is this crazy person talking about? I am a firefighter man.... We are not producing a product, and this isn't a production line that we can produce an extra 50 items today. Well each and everyone of us are in the customer service business. Our business is making the customer, (that patient, that victim or that homeowner) feel as though their problems are OUR problems. We should use the Chief Brunicini model for keeping Mrs. Smith happy. By keeping Mrs. Smith happy, we are essentially keeping our budgets financially supported by the consumers of our service.

As far as personal survival goes, if I had to make a decision between laying off a late, lazy firefighter who does the bare minimum everyday (or) a hard working, hard training, go getter... the answer is pretty clear brothers. Market yourself, do your job better than yesterday, train like your life depends on it (because it does) and don't complain about daily tasks or chores, complete them and ask for more. Better yet, you know what needs to be done on a daily basis,go get it done without being told to by your officer.

Otherwise, when the hammer is about to fall... it is he, the more marketable firefighter who has a better chance of staying to "play another day". Remember this is the greatest job in the world and don't ever forget it!

Stay Safe Brothers and Sisters

Fire Emergency Training Consultation Services (603) 313-2982