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When do you back off?

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  • When do you back off?

    The jan. 2001 issue of Fire Chief has an interesting article from past chief Don Loeb of Dunkirk F.D. examining when do you let it burn and when do you put it out? Where do you draw the line "retarding the destruction of something absolutely with out value." A year or so ago I made the decision to let a massive haypile (one of the ones composed of haybales the size of minivans)burn down to ash.If we had spent the time and resources to put it out, we'd have been there for hours and had a pile of useless wet hay to show for it. We called in a dozer, dug a berm around it and let it go.Chief Loeb raises the question of abandoned structures in remote rural areas. At what point do you not commit full resouces to extinguisment?
    Does anyone out there have any thoughts or guidelines on this? It will be interesting to see what our varied opinions are.STAY SAFE!!

  • #2
    Every fire is a Risk vs Benefit exercise. For example, is the risk I put my FF in or the risk of runoff to the environment worth the benefit of extinguishing this fire? Do a risk/benefit analysis on every fire and you will almost always decide the most prudent course of action.

    There are no hard and fast rules guiding fighting fires. One can say they will never put their FF's at risk for an unoccupied structure, but aren't we charged with protecting property also? This is a risky job, but we can make an effective, safe interior attack on most structures if we arrive in time.

    A comprehensive size up, training and experience will tell you what decision to make when you arrive at a fire. Trust what you know and make the right decision.


    • #3
      Scene Size Up! benson hit that right on the head.

      But I will add this, if it's questionable, surround and drown. I will die trying to save a life but I will not die trying to save a house!

      Stay Safe...
      Rebecca Richardson FF/EMT
      Isles of Capri Fire Rescue
      South Florida


      • #4
        You two said it so perfect that there isn't anything for me to add! Scene size up and look at what you have. a 2 story house with flames out of the up stairs bed room and no where else that some thing that you could make an attack and knock it down, but a 2 story with flames out of 3-4 windows and smoke comming though the roof I would look and ask my self is eveyone out? What do I gain but entering the stucture? Is it wroth a firefighters life? This is a little guide that I use when I come upon a scene.


        Stay Safe and remember to put the wet stuff on the red stuff


        • #5
          "We will risk our lives a lot for a SAVEABLE life, We will risk our lives a little for SAVEABLE property, We will NOT risk our lives at all for UNSAVEABLE lives or UNSAVEABLE property"

          I heard this at a training class and I thought it was perfect for anyone in any situation and it's not that common that you can put "in any situation" in most sentences.


          • #6
            There was a fire about a year ago on some abandonded property. It was off the main road, down an overgrown road. The police got word of it late at night when a caller reported thick fog in the area. Police went to investigate and found an old, abandoned house on fire. Since it was in a difficult location, and the house has been the target of arson before, the FD decided to just let it burn. They left a engine and small crew there to keep an eye on it, but esentially let it burn. Seems like the right decision.



            • #7
              Benson 911 and LadyFirefighter are correct in their answer, but I can add to it. It's knowledge of what is in your district, pre fire/EMS/hazmat/disaster planning and having the courage and the wisdom to know when to say when.

              Knowing when to give it up can be heartwrenching...Deputy Chief Mike MacNamee in Worcester had to make a difficult decision at the "building from hell"...six of our Brothers were lost, but his action saved the lives of countless other firefighters.

              A few years ago, there was a fire in an agricultural supply store in Westbrook, Maine. The IC made a decision there, too...to evacuate the area and let the structure burn. If he used the usual mindset of "put wet stuff on red stuff", he could have caused a major environmental disaster in the community.

              NKF's quote was excellent and summed up what the others stated. We are called out to emergencies...and sometimes the answer lies with "thinking outside of the box"!

              Firefighters: rising under adverse conditions to accept the challenge!
              Captain Gonzo

              [This message has been edited by Captain Gonzo (edited 02-16-2001).]


              • #8
                Well, I think EVERYONE hit it right on the head.

                Our policy is the same policy hat is mentioned previously. Scene size-up. If a structure is viable, we will do an interior attack on the it and try to save the structure. In cases of a multiple arson plagued structure as was mentioned, I think we feel that it is going to cost a life, firefighter or civilian eventually, so we have let the struture burn to the foundation. The second side to the "viable" factor is, if it IS viable, is it safe for me and my crew to enter? If not, the insurance company of the owner will have to handle it after the ashes cool. No one is worth an old abandoned structure. On the flip side, we have that incredible urge o quelch the fire, and the best way to do it is from and interior direct,indirect, or combination attack.

                We just have to weigh the pros and the cons regarding the matter. Sometimes we become as helpless and someone that is standing there without the equipment we have available to us, and that is aggravating. However, that is just the way that it is.

                Just my .02 worth.

                Your brother in the Service,


                • #9
                  One principal thought that has been instilled into my thinking will always be
                  WE RISK A LOT TO SAVE A LOT
                  Sometimes it is hard to just let it burn but simply remember even rutine operations can go bad


                  • #10
                    NKF said it right. We, and I, will not risk my life for an unsavable life. Lets face it folks, if you have trouble getting into that room, with all your equipment on, then the little kid with the sleeper on is already toast. Time to haul back, and just let nature take it's course. I am sorry to be morbid and crude, but lets face it folks, that kid is in the exact opposite place we are. He/She is in heaven, we are now stuck in hell with a corpse. Fight smart. Fight with your heart, but use your brain as the guiding force.

                    "I hate it when someone says something is impossible, because then I have to go and find a way to do it."
                    Whatever it is, I didn't do it, and I don't know anything about a fire. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
                    Stay safe, boys and girls. It's for keeps out there.


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