Attic Fires: A tale of two tactics

First off let me acknowledge a few things. Every fire is different. Every department is different. I know staffing, manpower, rural, metro, training, experience, all of these factors play into how fire tactics are put in place. I also will admit, what works for one will not work for the other in the fire service. It’s like Forrest’s big box of chocolate out there. So let me tell you guys how I began to venture down this road…

I was at the station a few weekends ago and like many of you fire buffs I wanted to see if I could find any new fires videos. I quickly discovered a few things 1) I spend waaay too much time on YouTube because I recognized most of the fires I watched and 2) There are some poor tactics out there. I’ve said it before but if you’re gonna live in the YouTube world or at least post your latest “worker” you’d better be ready for some criticism. (and Yes, I practice what I preach & invite any criticism from all the fires we post) As I watched a few vids new & old I began to notice a few trends, especially when it came to fires that either originated or became heavily involved in the attic. These fires were handled either one of two ways and the outcomes were always stark. Go in & get it…Fire goes out. Go up, spray water from on top and/or around the roof area…Fire gets bigger/out of control. I’m sure many of you guys have been in my seat, sitting in from of your computer thinking “Dont spray through there…or…Why don’t you just…” You know, do the same things I hate that guys do to my videos…Monday Morning Quarterback it! Hey, I’m not perfect and dont claim to be. But during all of this I had this “lightbulb” moment…Someone should make a good attic fire training video! Then I thought to myself “Hey, ding-dong, you own and operate a fire helmet camera company…Why dont you do it!” Boom…The video above appeared.

Now let me say, I am not picking on the department shown in the video. There are plenty of forums to bash tactics I didn’t intend for this to be another and conversely I’m not trying to pump up my department (the second video). We arent exempt from error or criticism, but as I said earlier if you’re gonna make a video, the best place to look for content is in your own archives.

So let’s get the rubber on the road. And exhale some of that frustration in front of our computer. We’ve all been to them, you pull up and you’ve got smoke pushing from the eves and/or fire blowing through the roof. Your first line through the door and you are not met with much interior smoke and very little if any heat. As you start to explore the interior of the home you find nothing new. Youve got an attic fire. Heres where the paths start to diverge. And those factors come into play…you remember those right? (staffing, manpower, rural, metro, training, experience) I think in the end no matter what you or your department has to overcome by way of those departmental factors, the majority of attic fires can be extinguished with a minimally staffed engine company with basic engine company equipment. A hose line, an attic ladder, a pike pole or EK hook and a firefighter with some initiative. Now if a picture is worth a thousand words, we at FDCam believe video makes you the Shakespeare of the fire ground. So after watching the video we know you guys are more than capable of using those three basic tools BUT I’ve been to a textbook attic fire with all three tools perfectly in place and our rookie fail to execute. How can this be you ask? Well it came down to initiative and experience. As our Rook climbed the attic ladder he quickly found rafters here are spaced 24″ and don’t leave much room for a helmet and SCBA. Also, a charged hose line more difficult to operate in the cramped space while standing on such a narrow ladder (you may find you need to get waist-high in the hole OR even sit on a rafter). And finally when you do open up the nozzle in an attic it gets hot & steamy…FAST. If you get your technique down you may find you can cock the hose line next to a rafter to support the nozzle reaction and you can get down to what will be ceiling/floor level and let that steam roll over you best as possible. But, for the most part, you gonna have to eat some. Hey, you wanted to be the nozzle man right?

Thats the good and bad. Now for the ugly. From the first part of the video I think we showed an ineffective tactic or placing the nozzle into the vent hole or even worse standing in the front yard shooting water onto the roof. In both cases water is not getting to the seat of the fire. Depending on where you place the nozzle, you could be drawing the fire from the seat to an uninvolved area of the house, actually causing fire spread.

Overall with a little training and common sense application attic fires don’t have to turn into multi alarm PR nightmares. Many homeowners will be satisfied by getting their family members out alive, but you should see the look of joy when they are able to salvage most of their belongings because of a properly place hose line and a firefighter with some initiative. And after all isn’t that the oath we all took? Life. Property.

Stay safe out there & Keep filming!


One thought on “Attic Fires: A tale of two tactics

  1. I was first in on one of those mystery attic fires last week. The owner had cut a hole in a closet for an attic hatch and a aluminum ladder was in place when we did a preliminary search with a TIC. The hole was so small I coulded get my pack past the ceiling height. I saw a wisp of smoke about mid way in the attic and went back down the ladder.
    When we went into the living room there was a small brown spot on the ceiling the size of a dollar coin. Once my partner touched it with the pull down tool out fell a junction box with a couple strands of wire attached. We gave it a quick hit with the pistol grip then went to the penetrating nozzle and gave the attic a couple 10 second blasts. That was the end of the fire, we pulled down a couple yards of the ceiling to expose the three layers of drywall and acoustic tiles that sandwiched the junction box hidden in the ceiling. We also found the original attic hatch buried under a new layer of drywall. All told less than 100 gallons of water which was good because the outside temp was minus 18 celuis. My pack froze on the way back to the rescue. Saddly no helmet cam . Great blog. John

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