I am back and will continue the discussion on vacant buildings.
First, I appoligize for not posting all weekend, I was at Missouri Winter Fire School teaching. It was a great weekend and everyone was pleasant and eager to learn.
When I left, I had posted a picture and gave a scenario of a vacant building. Vacant buildings and how we approach them is a hot topic right now. We have some chiefs and firefighters arguing that we need to write-off all vacant buildings.
On the otherhand, we have firefighters and some officers that argue that we should search all buildings that are on fire because that was what we were sworn to do. I understand both points.
While teaching this weekend this topic was brought up and the very vocal crowd, and the majority immediately said, “Let ’em burn.” Their setement was that we should not be entering these buildings because they are “vacant.”
I then asked the question, “Are all vacant buildings decrepit and delapidated?” The answer is absolutely not. Many vacant buildings are just that; not occupied. It doesn’t mean that they are falling down and structurally unsound.
I pose this scenario. If a couple leaves their winter home for five months out of the year for warmer weather, is that building abandoned? Most said , “no.” Would the “let it burn” montra apply in that situation and why or why not? Well, most said no it would not apply.
Listen, I am not sure why this is so difficult. In a way I do because I understand the history of some very famous LODD that have happen in abandoned buildings. But, at the same time, we are seeing and hearing reports of homeless and vagrants being rescued and found in these vacant buildings.
So, what do we do? Here is what I am suggesting and you are free to disagree. If we use the same risk management system and the risk vs. benefit anaylysis, this becomes less of an issue. If your first arriving units are adequately trained, confident in their decision making abilities and familiar with their area, they perform like they would at any other building.
Just because a building is occupied does not make it inherently safe if it is on fire. The same is true for vacant buildings; just because it is vacant does not make inherently dangerous just because it is vacant. It also doesn’t mean it isn’t occupied.
Do your size up, get three sides when you pull up. Get your 360 and make an evaluation of conditions inside and those of the building. If conditions are poor and survivability is not possible, don’t put your people at risk.
If the structure appears to be sound, the fire conditions are condusive for an aggressive search and attack, then it should be done. The same rules apply for occupied structures. You may take more risk for an occupied structure if you don’t konw that all occupants are out. But, you still will measure conditions and survivability, especially if you have confirmation everyone is out. Use the same judgment and experience with vacant buildings.
The bottom line is that properly trained firefighters and company officers will make the right decision. IF they don’t, adequately trained and experienced chief officers need to make sure the correct decision is made and the proper battle plan is followed.
Use your head and don’t let your ego and emotions rule your actions. It could get you and your crew killed. Take your time to call on good practices and experience to see the overall picture.
Until next time, stay safe and be careful.