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Does the fire service, in general, risk safety too much at commerical fires?

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  • Does the fire service, in general, risk safety too much at commerical fires?

    Regarding commercial structure fires with absolutely no indication of persons inside:

    I know that an interior attack won't be initiated if it appears too dangerous, and if one is initiated and conditions later appear to becoming too unsafe, firefighters are then pulled out.

    With these thoughts set aside, I believe that in the big picture of things, the fire service in general may often be too aggressive when fighting commercial structure fires.

    I am cautious and pretty level headed but have probably risked more than really needed even though the conditions for an interior attack appeared good enough. But you never really know when a ceiling is going to come down, or there will be a hole in the floor. (I know its part of the job). And how many of these commercial structures ended up being torn down anyway?
    ( I know taxpayers pay for fire service and you have to try to put fires out, and that insurance companies set their rates based on level of service, and water supply).

    Firefighters must conduct fireground operatons with thought, proceed as conditions dictate, and with safety in mind but it seems that saving the higher risks for residential dwellings is something that maybe should be done a little more?

    Do we need to resist the tempation to go inside even if it appears safe enough, and just concentrate even more often on an exterior attack and protect the exposures?

    I know people will say ever situation is different but you know what I mean. There is that moment in time at a working commercial structure fire when it seems okay to go in (usually when you first get there of course), you know it might not be too long before you and your buddy on the line will be pulling yourselves out anyway, but should you really be going in? Is it really worth it?

    Has the past given the firefighter a history that portrays such strength, toughness, and bravery (and rightly so), that society has high expectations of firefighters and then this pushes us a little to risk more than really needed? Should we ease off more at commerical fires and save the more aggressive, and offensive attacks, for residential fires (don't worry, I know the old cliches: every situation is different, every fire is different, etc.)?

    [ 09-01-2001: Message edited by: RRR ]

    [ 09-01-2001: Message edited by: RRR ]

  • #2
    I hope I'm not misunderstanding your point but here goes. I don't know what town you work for but I think you don't want your opinion to get out to to many of the business owners. If I was to hear that all commerical business's stand a ZERO chance of survivial when fire breaks out I'm afraid that I would have to move my business to the other side of the town line. Every taxpayer deserves a to expect that his livelyhood will be protected. I guess you think that all Mom and Pop stores carry sufficient insurance to rebuild their property after a total loss. Guess again, then take another guess at how many business's both large and small can afford the same. So unless your district is very well off tax base wise from residential homes and/or you don't want anymore present or future commercial business in your area you might want to talk this idea over with your Chief and the town council.


    • #3
      Billy Mott, I guess you didn't really get my point but that's okay it's hard to get them at times unless talking to someone. My family has two businesses and a share in a large commercial structure and I'm an insurance agent, so we like to see damage to a minimal.

      It just seems that sometimes where there is no life at risk, such as in commercial fires where it is strongly believed no one is inside, things are maybe risked or pushed just a little much, such as with interior attacks sometimes. With a residential fire, with the usually higher possiblilty of occupancy, go at it and get those people out.


      • #4
        Strongly believing that there isn't someone inside ins't enough, unless you are 100% sure or there is no chance of a victim surviving than u can write off an interior attack. Untill that point every effort should be made to search, even if you cannot search the entire area. at least search what you can even if it is just ten feet into the doorway. But however when it comes to a commercial building that is at the point of being writin off because there isnt much you can do, dont risk anything. You can always reevaluate it later and send people in if it is safe. But Billy is right i think, there are some stratigies that we dont want the general public to be aware of.


        • #5
          I'm 100% for life safety, and I guess I think I know where you are coming from to a point, but....As long as I am a FireFighter no one is ever going to say to me that I just let a structure burn down without a real good reason. Are you saying that if you are 100% sure there is no body inside then we have no reason to go in and make a good stop? How about 95% or 82%? Where do we draw the line?How about your neighbors house when you know they are on vacation? How about the church just because it's after hours? I hate to see firefighters die for any reason, but the fire service was formed to protect lives and property, and therefore we are obligated to give the taxpayers, our employer's, the best we have. I hope we have leaders and good common sense to keep us all safe and if we have a higher up that wants it done in an unsafe manner then WE need to stand up and be heard. As I have heard before I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6. Just remember we can be Structural, Aircraft, or even a Shipboard Firefighter, and at times any of the above but I don't think we can be a pick and choose profession.

          [ 09-01-2001: Message edited by: Billy Mott ]


          • #6
            An aggressive interior attack puts out fires faster than an exterior attack...TRUE?

            The longer a fire burns, the greater the chance for collapse...TRUE?

            All members kept outside a building which collapses are safe...FALSE?

            A building allowed to free-burn endagers all surrounding structures...TRUE?

            Structures surrounding commercial buildings can store any number of Haz-Mats, leading to a full blown confligration...TRUE?

            Fire brands from a fully involved commercial building will NOT endanger residential areas downwind...FALSE?

            I can go on for a long time here. We take a risk at every call, that's our job. Now go put the fire out and do it quickly.


            • #7
              Every fire is a risk benefit analysis.

              Some buildings and specific occupancies have much less benefit than others, and that certainly should factor into the decision to pull out or switch tactics.

              The risk benefit analysis also includes...is it safer to attack the fire now and put it out, than try to overhaul a weaker structure later?

              No two fires are the same.

              In looking at the risk-benefit, who is the occupant?

              What, precisely, are we trying to save when a McDonalds or any other national chain is going up in smoke? Their business records, which are transmitted to HQ each evening if not more often? The interior so the health department has something to stand inside when they condemn it?

              Same style of building with a locally owned business may change the equation -- there is a greater benefit in saving the business records of a small shop who also probably doesn't have the insurance or financial pockets of larger company. Risk is the same, benefit is bigger -- that makes a difference.

              An aggressive interior attack puts out fires faster than an exterior attack...TRUE?

              The longer a fire burns, the greater the chance for collapse...TRUE?
              Yep. Of course with some of the commercial strip structures like fast food restaurants, you have very little time in certain fires before collapse.

              All members kept outside a building which collapses are safe...FALSE?
              Um, let's see
              1) Collapse Zone
              2) Excavators
              If you need to, let her burn and tear it apart with machinery later.

              A building allowed to free-burn endagers all surrounding structures...TRUE?
              Maybe in Brooklyn, NY...not Brooklyn, CT or much of the suburban or rural nation. If the McD's in our town caught fire, it *would* not spread to other structures -- 100' of pavement around it, then a 20' grass strip, and another 20' of pavement to the next exposure.

              Structures surrounding commercial buildings can store any number of Haz-Mats, leading to a full blown confligration...TRUE?
              Again, depends on your area. Outside of cities where buildings touch or nearly touch each other, conflagarations are pretty darn near impossible -- unless you have severe wildlands interface problems.

              Fire brands from a fully involved commercial building will NOT endanger residential areas downwind...FALSE?
              Never seen any structure fire I've respond to pose a problem to *roofs* downwind. Have seen some *very, very* limited situations where brush has caught fire and needed a quick knockdown. So, yeah, FALSE in my area.
              IACOJ Canine Officer


              • #8
                I think the problem with commercial fires is that we attack with a house/apartment fire mindset. How many time do you see the 1 3/4 pulled? Probably flowing the same as they do for a bedroom fire. How often do you see the truck inside with the LONG hooks? How fast is the 2nd line getting into the fire, how fast can we open the roof? Do we plan for the extra time and effort for forcible entry? Who has the right resources on the way for a working commercial fire? 229 makes some great points and his FD floods a building fire of this type with firefighters to accomplish everything they need to, but even they lose firefighters in commercials too often. Regarding businesss owners not insuring their properties.. tough, thats a gamble they are taking. If I owned a business, I'd never risk my livelihood thinking someone else would protect it and as an officer I will never give up a firefighter to save a piece of property. TRAINING and the correct tactics are needed. Once this is in place, a reasonable risk/benefit can be addressed and we can make the right decision on when to attack and when to call it a loser.


                • #9
                  All good thought provoking points so far; but isn't a commercial property more than just walls and contents?

                  It's jobs too.

                  Those employed at a McDonalds (or at another place that some of us may think are are disposable properties) aren't working there just to get funny stories for a book they're writing ... they need those paychecks, and some need them desperatley, barely making it from week to week.

                  For others a commercial property may have been a lifetime investment of 18 hour plus days, heartache, and lots of blood sweat and tears.

                  I own a business that took a long time to build, and I have employees that need to work. Yeah, there's insurance for me and unemployment for my workers, but unemployment will never take the place of a real paycheck.

                  I pay over $8,000 in city taxes, licenses, rail fees, and so on (not to mention all the donations that the little league and volunteer fire/EMS and PBA hit me for - no real complaint there) and I believe I am paying for fire protection.

                  As a volunteer firefighter I don't want anyone taking unnecessary crazy risks to save my business, just common sense safe firefighting.


                  • #10
                    Many, many good points here.
                    I agree with RRR. It's my opinion that some departments do take too many chances, others don't take enough.

                    I'm all for aggressive interior attacks. It is the most effective way to fight the fire.

                    However, it shouldn't matter if it's a home or a comercial building. Don't fight a battle you can not win. The risk v. gain must remain constantly in focus.

                    Stay Safe..God Bless

                    [ 09-01-2001: Message edited by: TriTownship600 ]


                    • #11
                      All great points on this. Billy, I just want to tell you that I am all for interior attacks on both residential and commericial fires, whether you are 100% sure there is noone inside or 100% sure there is or anywhere in between (you may not know 100% for sure about anything, but based on the best knowledge at hand, etc.).

                      But here is the BUT. It still seems that at times things are pushed a little too much. Use the McDonald's example as a specific argument model. A McD's that is in its own seperate building, absolutely no chance of spread to other structures, etc. It is a good working fire, the officer in charge is thinking. He/she is thinking that it is safe enough to attempt an atleast super quick interior attack even if the guys only get in 6, 8, 10 feet or less. Guys on roof too. Yes, everything is based on judgement, which is based on experience, training, the conditions, etc. but these judgements seem to sometimes teeter too close to the line *for what you've got*. What you've got is a building that will be rebuilt and life will move on for the owners and employees or you can have injured or killed firefighters with the same result; the building is rebuilt or repaired and life moves on for the owners and employees. Albeit, in this case you have a huge international company that has more money than french fries maybe and I'm not sure about details regarding corporate owned via franchise owned, etc.

                      I'm not saying to stand back and let the place burn down but to still try the best possible but maybe not have the guys go in if conditions are close to not allowing this anyway.

                      Same old story, I know every situation is different, conditions must dictate, etc. but I just hope some understand what I am trying to talk about.

                      [ 09-02-2001: Message edited by: RRR ]


                      • #12
                        I think that THE KEY word in this thread is in RRR's message: EXPERIENCE.

                        While training, conditions, resources are equally important, it's ultimatley your or your commander's EXPERIENCE that will make the call to enter or surround and drown.

                        Whoever said "You can't throw a book at a fire" was right.

                        + + + + + + + + + +

                        Is Micky D's a "disposable building?"

                        Apparently it is to someone who believes there is a greater benefit to saving a small locally owned similar property instead.

                        When did firefighters start taking ownership or owner's profits into the fire suppression decision process?

                        Fire is fire - and unless there is a risk to firefighters - our duty is to put it out.



                        • #13
                          Halligan84 hits the nail on the head about the problems we firefighters often make for ourselves by attacking commercial property fires with a house/apartment mindset, and I agree that experience is the key factor to determining the actions that will and will not be taken.

                          What I don't understand this disposable building concept.

                          Should I rethink tactics for fires at my national chain stores like A&Ps, Post Offices, CVSs, RiteAids, Nathans, and Pizza Huts?

                          I really don't want to do that because what we have been doing here seems to work. The bell goes off and then we put out the fire. We don't read the Wall Street Journal first and we don't care who owns what.


                          • #14
                            Each fire situation is different. I consider the stand alone fast food restaurant building to be disposable. If a fire were to occur there, and the building was lost, you can bet your sweet bippy that another new and improved improved version of that fast food restaurant would be built on that site within a month.

                            A fire at Mickey D's during business hours...an aggressive attack coupled with search and rescue to make sure everyone is out. At 03:00 hours, unknown time of involvment, building well involved..it's an exterior attack.

                            How about the commercial occupancy that you constantly cite for code violations? They either complain to the mayor, city council or board of selectman, who in turn give you grief for you look like the bad guy for "harassing a businessman and taxpayer". They clean up their act on a temporary basis and go back to the "same old same old" or just ignore your efforts until you are forced to come up with a cease and desist order. It's obvious that they only care about making a profit and do not care about the safety of their workers, clients or that of your firefighters. We (and I am using the corporate "we" here) know the job is to fight the fire should it occur, and we will do it to the best of our ability, but we also have to look out for our safety and not risk the lives of our personnel in a situation where the outcome is marginal.

                            Put the fire out...yes.
                            Do it safely? yes.
                            Risk our personnel for a lost cause? No way!

                            [ 09-02-2001: Message edited by: Captain Gonzo ]
                            ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
                            Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY


                            • #15
                              Here in Detroit, we can't afford to lose commercials whether they are a McDonalds, QVC or any other chain that is loaded with assets or a simple Mom and Pop shop. They rarely rebuild in the same area here, if they rebuild at all. So if you choose an exterior attack and lose everything, you have lost jobs and income for the city and the department along with the property itself.

                              I believe in the saftey of my crew first and foremost but we can usually get in fast enough to put the fire out from the interior.

                              As the fire progresses, you make your decisions based on what is happening at that exact time and the possibilities of future problems arising.

                              I will not stay outside and surround and drown a building unless I feel that it is our only viable and safe option.

                              I've seen many commercial companies that have lost buildings decide not to rebuild and decide to move out to the burbs and leave the people and the jobs behind.

                              Every building we save here is an asset to the community and the city, it is our jobs to protect that property along with any lives that are in danger.

                              To stand outside and let a building burn to the ground just for the sheer fact that it can be considered "not worth it" is wrong. These buildings are important to the citizens and the city as a whole and therefore you do what must be done to save it while taking as many precautions as possible for the safety of the crews.

                              As E229lt stated " We take risks at every call, thats our jobs. Now go put the fire out and do it quickly". Lt I couldn't agree more.

                              Capt Gonzo, this is my 2 1/2 cents. I'm only a Lt.

                              [ 09-02-2001: Message edited by: FireLt1951 ]

                              [ 09-02-2001: Message edited by: FireLt1951 ]


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