Categories
Firefighting

Void Space Backdraft/Smoke Explosion

Check out the outside indicators of void space fires as well as the backdraft/smoke explosion occurring in the knee wall.

Video Credit: FirstAlarm STL on YouTube.

Full video link below. Hostile fire event occurs at the 7:40 mark.

St. Louis First Alarm 10/30/14

Categories
Building Construction Firefighting Training

Back to Main Street: Five Reminders When Facing Main Street Fires

Follow the links below to check out the latest articles by Chief Joe Pronesti from Elyria Fire Department (OH). Part one and two of “Reminders on Main Street.’’ (Shared with the Chief’s permission.)

Back to Main Street: Five Reminders When Facing Main Street Fires

Back to Main Street: Five More Reminders When Facing Main Street Fires

Be sure to check out Fire Engineering’s other resources as well.

Categories
Firefighting

The Aggressive Interior Fire Attack: Why You Should and Why You Shouldn’t

Photos courtesy of Ben Mazenic and Garen Mosby.

Follow the link below to check out Chris’ latest article on Firefighter Nation on what it means to do an “aggressive interior fire attack.”

https://www.firefighternation.com/firerescue/the-aggressive-interior-fire-attack-why-you-should-and-why-you-shouldnt/

Be sure to check out their other resources as well.

Categories
Building Construction Firefighter Firefighting Training

FDIC 2022

Grateful to FDIC, proud of the work put into this class, and excited to talk Legacy Buildings with everyone in April. Below is a little preview of the class.

Categories
Firefighting

St. Louis Brick

Lex Shady & Chris Tobin

Few areas of the country have as many brick buildings as does St. Louis. This can be attributed to two main reasons.

  1. At one time, there were 53 clay mines throughout St. Louis, making it easily accessible, and cheaper than in other areas of the country due to lack of transportation costs. The rapid expansion of the city through the early 20th century made this the material of choice.
  2. The “White Cloud” fire that destroyed 418 buildings on the city’s riverfront in 1849. This resulted in the city creating an ordinance that buildings must be constructed with non-combustible materials.

The use of brick resulted in a city filled with gorgeous architecture, the quality of the brick and the designs that ensued from various mining groups is something you don’t see in most areas of the country. Another unintended consequence of the use of brick is that these buildings typically hold up better to years of decay than do frame ones. For a city who’s population has decreased almost 66% since its high in 1950, this is an important feature. (St. Louis population was approximately 857,000 in 1950 down to less than 300,000 in the 2020 census.)

At one point, there were over 35,000 abandoned buildings throughout the City, most in North City. As with every city that struggles with abandoned structures, there is a subsequent increase in fires. These fires, whether caused by fireworks, weather, arson, or for heating/cooking; can result in heavily damaged, sometimes partially collapsed structures. The cost of renovating or demolishing these can be very expensive, and when in a city struggling financially, results in them left standing as is.

Another interesting feature to the city is the amount of brick theft. Because the brick produced throughout the city was of such high quality, the demand for it was (and still is) high. Brick thievery has been an issue for decades, but reached a peak in the early 2000’s. Brick thieves worked hard to obtain their prize, with entire walls going missing overnight. The city cracked down on brickyards to try and slow the theft, but it resulted in many hazardous buildings spread throughout the city.

There’s a great documentary on the brick theft in the city,

Brick by Chance and Fortune

If you’d like to read more on this city’s unique brick history, check out the articles below.

St. Louis Brick Paradox

http://www.urbanistdispatch.com/2019/st-louis-brick-paradox/


“Why is Everything Brick?”

http://stldotage.blogspot.com/2008/04/why-is-everything-brick.html

St. Louis, Navigating the Brick City

https://www.artpapers.org/st-louis-navigating-the-brick-city/

The Great Fire that Changed the Face of St. Louis

https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/history/may-17-1849-the-great-fire-that-changed-the-face-of-st-louis/article_ff8faca9-1ba5-5f52-9252-e8397b705240.html

Categories
Firefighting

Books

“There’s nothing new about firefighting, except to those who knew nothing.”

We’d be remiss to not thank our senior firemen and other mentors for all of the time, education, and training they have shared with us throughout the years. You know who you are.

Due to the nature of how common trade knowledge, jargon, terminology, and methods are passed down amongst the fire service much of the information can not be cited as a proprietary source to one particular piece of work, individual, group or otherwise.

That being said, below is a list of books we find to be extremely useful, and refer to often in our studies.

Categories
Firefighting

Fire Service Training Thesis

“Training for Failure in the United States Fire Service”

Written by District Chief David ONeal from Akron Fire Department

Kinesthetic, or “hands on” training is the type of learning style in which learning takes place by the students carrying out physical activities, rather than listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations.

We all know this is the best style for achieving retention and skill acquisition in the fire service, but why is that the case? Chief O’Neal explains the importance of hands on training in the fire service by utilizing data from our own industry, and comparing it to the best practices of other similar industries. He acknowledges training constraints from staffing, cost, and increased call volume. As well as examines various training models currently utilized, how stress impacts learning, and how to best aid our members in retaining information. Below is an excerpt from his thesis.

We feel this information could aid in your training programs, and it puts science to what many have been saying for years; pc-based training isn’t sufficient. To view the rest of his research, please follow the link below.

https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=834597

Categories
Firefighting

Podcasts

Chris and Lex talk with Corely Moore on Firehouse Vigilance about about all things building construction, from main street, to suburbia and everything in between.

https://podbay.fm/p/the-weekly-scrap/e/1612321200

Lex talks with David Mellen of Valor Fire Training on building construction, fire prevention, firemanship, and equality in the fire service.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mebye3lq8bs

Chris talks with Corely about social media in the fire service and the future of Fire Conferences and what Chris believes they will look like moving forward.

https://podbay.fm/p/the-weekly-scrap/e/1585717200

Lex talks with the Average Jake Firefighter Podcast on everything from building construction to fitness.

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/episode-33-a-conversation-with-lex-shady/id1381014104?i=1000462259208

Chris talks with the guys from Due Work Podcast on “aggressive firemanship.”

https://anchor.fm/due-work/episodes/Ep–13—An-Aggressive-Interview-With-An-Aggressive-Fireman-Chris-Tobin-e36sud

Lex and Scott Orr discuss the use of the word “firemen” in the fire service, and why she prefers it.

https://code3podcast.com/2020/01/firemen-even-if-theyre-women-with-alexis-shady/

“Humpday Hangout” on Fire Engineering. Chris, Frank Ricci, and “RJ” James discuss search tactics.

https://www.fireengineering.com/firefighting/humpday-hangout-search-tactics/#gref

“The Anatomy of Building Construction” with Lex, hosted by the Central Ohio Fools.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdmMtAou3s8

“The Art of Truckmanship” with Chris, hosted by the Central Ohio Fools.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdgJJLvqpFs

Lex talks with Joe Pronesti about how to navigate the maze of information in the fire service.

https://www.fireengineering.com/podcasts/podcast-main-street-firefighting-march-2020/

Chris talks with Dr. Rich Gasaway of SAMatters on the “Mindset of Aggressiveness.

https://www.samatters.com/284/?utm_campaign=meetedgar&utm_medium=social&utm_source=meetedgar.com

Lex talks with Brian and Kara of “The Professional Brotherhood” podcast on being a student of the job.

https://youtu.be/2O0qNAML_lw

Scott Orr and Chris discuss the “state of the fire service” and having an “old school attitude.”

https://code3podcast.com/2018/08/old-school-attitude-with-chris-tobin/

Categories
Firefighting

The Chicago Lumberyard

Rear Porch Fires

Chris Tobin

Go to any large Midwestern city and take a drive down an alley, what you’ll see is an architectural feature colloquially known as the “Chicago Lumberyard”. A term that reflects the prevalence of rear multi level wooden porches extending as far as the blocks they’re built in. The wooden alley porches you see today were commonly built between 1900-1940 out of functionality more than convenience.  Some offered stairs doubling as fire escapes while some did not. Before modern air conditioning, open porches offered relief during the oppressive humidity of Midwestern summers. The only other option was sleeping outside or in parks. Another common function of rear porches was a place for wood stoves and kerosene heating which just added to an increased fire hazard. Porches were naturally built off of the kitchen which allowed for easy access of fuel delivery for cooking as well as ice for those who could afford it. 

Today’s rear porches come in two types, open with handrails and fully enclosed framed with windows. Most do not have porch stairs and may instead have a rear stairwell on the first floor accessed through a back door, especially in four family flats. Treated pine is the most common construction material due to its rot resistance, but over time structural integrity is slowly comprised. Modern uses of rear porches can vary greatly from social gathering places, storage, office space, and bedrooms. Typically vinyl siding has been added over the older exterior which can be anything from asbestos siding shingles to era wood siding. All these will require aggressive truck work to overhaul working concurrently with fire attack. Another feature is that the basement stairs are typically right under the 1st floor porch, so don’t automatically assume a porch fire started on the porch. Be sure to rule out a basement fire extending upward on arrival with an effective 360 size up. 

Tactical considerations are similar to the principles of exposure protection since rear porches in Type lll’s will be separated by the rear brick wall. This offers a level of protection from fire spread into the cockloft, but enclosed porches are often stacked combustible construction. So you have rapid exterior fire spread to every level of the building from one source, which can extend horizontally into the dwelling on multiple levels at once. Life safety is the number one priority, especially potential victims that may be trapped above the 1st floor. Hose lines must be stretched to the proper location the first time saving costly delays in repositioning. There are many options for deployment depending on your resources and conditions. 

The basic strategy here is confinement by holding the rear wall, thus keeping the fire out of the main building while searches are conducted. Since porches are in the rear you have to weigh your options when deploying hose lines. Is stretching down the gangway for exterior application going to be quicker than forcing entry with an uncharged line to an upper floor? Does an engine company respond to the rear? How about tandem lines? One goes inside to stop horizontal extension, and one to the rear to stop vertical extension lapping upwards to the roofing material additionally available to protect adjacent exposures. Traditionally the first line went to the fire floor and the second went to the floor above. All these have to be considered. If people are reported trapped the first line must go inside and hold extension at the rear wall putting water in between tenable spaces supporting a rescue effort. If there are rear interior stairs those have to be protected as well. 

If your staffing is unable to stretch multiple lines quickly and must rely on only one, err on the side of probability and make entry knowing most porch fires start on the inside and typically have no doors to slow fire spread. Tenable space must be claimed early on and with expedience. Any fire attack that starts outside must have the manpower and second line ready for almost concurrent entry or you risk delaying actual extinguishment of interior spaces for exterior ones that pose less threat to valuable property and possible victims inside. Additionally re-stretching and repositioning a charged line back to the front and possibly up stairs is extremely laborious, even more so in an already understaffed situation. 

 Interior operations need to be cognizant of the transition between the legacy floor of the main building and lighter weight decking of a porch. The collapse potential increases with porches made of modern floor decking such as plywood covered in tile which presents a “terrazzo floor” effect. Weight is also a factor due to aging structural supports not originally designed for a fully framed room with contents. It’s not uncommon to find holes burned through right inside the porch entryway. Anyone advancing the nozzle shouldn’t enter a porch if they can’t assess its integrity. Sounding the floor decking with your heel of your outstretched foot or a hand tool is paramount. Let the stream do the work until visibility increases and operate from the building side of the rear wall if the floor is comprised. 

Master stream options are limited to rear accessible areas such as alleys. If obstructions are present like light poles, wires or overgrown brush and trees a 2.5 hand line will be optimal. A portable monitor device stretched to the rear is also a choice for well off fires with exposures. Exposure protection will also be the most effective from the rear instead of trying to operate from the front down gangways that diminish your stream angles. A quick stretch to the rear with a second or third attack line should be considered. Exposures are common place with rear porches, so expect one on each side especially if wind conditions exist. 

Roof ops can assist by keeping vent holes near the rear and checking the rear wall by pulling back the flashing or tar paper for any extension into the cockloft. The objective is holding or limiting fire extension to the porch side of the rear exterior wall on the original building. Horizontal extension into the cockloft or attics is number one. Guttering should be pried off in the rear to expose the layers of decking and roofing materials during overhaul. Additionally, some rear porches have scuttle openings on the top floor porch roof making vertical ventilation that much easier. A trick is to open the scuttle and force the apron wall inside for quick access into the cockloft. Careful not to unknowingly operate above a porch which is inherently weaker than the roof decking of the original building. Some are tarred over in a way it’s difficult to notice any transition. The parapet side walls will give you a clear indication of where the back wall terminates and the porch roof starts. Pull back some coping stones and make continuous checks for horizontal fire extension into the main building. Any extension found should be immediately communicated with the IC and coordinated with crews below. 

These are just a few basic principles to guide by, but there are many more out there worth knowing. The main thing to remember is what inherent issues your building stock presents regarding rear porches.  Become intimately familiar with your working environments using every non fire related run as one more opportunity to preplan for the fire related one. 

Categories
Firefighting

Empty Walls

Chris Tobin

Google “fire service pride” and you’ll see real quick how abundant it’s presence is in our industry. There are books, articles, blogs, clothing, you name it, all dedicated to the “P” word. But what happens when none exists? Even more importantly, how do you create it? Walk into any firehouse and you’ll most likely be greeted by a display case, some sort of wall of fame or something dedicated to past accomplishments and moments.

This is where my story starts. I was once new and assigned to an engine house with none of that. There were no display cases, no edgy logos, and not a single photo hanging up. It was a house of empty walls. It felt sterile and lacked character. An institutional white walled, brown trimmed look of a work place, not a firehouse. I didn’t like it, it wasn’t the place I had imagined. The three brass poles stood out like over dressed guests at a house party and the spiral staircase didn’t fit in at all. There was a watch desk, called the joker stand, which is where I would spend my day studying SOGs during probation. I didn’t mind because it allowed me to visualize what the house would look like if I had a choice.

I can’t tell you when it all started, but I can tell you it started outside with the old rusty firehouse bench no one used. I figured I might as well start there and work my way in. My senior man had recommended I always have a project, so taking his advice I got to work. Not to mention it was a great opportunity to make a good impression early on. So that’s what I did. Naturally, the green metal frame was stripped and replaced with fire truck red while the wood was refinished. Two weeks later, the firehouse had a nice new bench out front. It was the first thing anyone saw walking in and silently sent a loud statement of pride. The funny thing about that bench is what happened next. Every morning it seemed to be in a different spot. It turned out the shifts were fighting over where it should be. That’s when I learned a valuable lesson in the byproduct of pride, which is ownership. Before that bench was painted, I don’t think anyone even realized it existed at the firehouse, and now we were fighting over it. The Firefighters had made it their bench and unlike before, cared where it was located.

Prides an amazing thing, it’s extremely powerful in the most silent ways. It’s a subconscious undertone that takes hold of anyone in its influence. The trick is to be the influencer. Be the person who designs a company logo, a station T- shirt or patch. It always starts with one person that ends up coalescing the entire engine house. I learned that in a house of empty walls change starts with one little photo. It was an old 4×6 post card of our engine house showing horses turning out on a call in 1911. I hung it right next to the Tv in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before I added some others here and there, always in the kitchen since that’s where we hung out mostly. Weeks went by, some supporting comments were made but I didn’t think anyone really noticed, then something happened. One morning at shift change an officer on the most tenured crew said he had something for me. He gave me an old Manila envelope with company photos he’d had for decades and asked me to hang them up. That’s when I knew things had turned a corner. Pride and ownership is an incredibly powerful force that you can’t see or touch but is impossible to miss on display. Soon the walls were how they should be in any firehouse. Logos were made, shirts were printed and patches ordered. The influence didn’t stop at the door either, other companies in the battalion took note and started coming up with their own logos and shirts. It was to the point where each shift tried to out do the other with some sort of house project or display. It was an incredible experience over the course of a few years but in the end it all started with a project and a 4×6 photo.

The lessons to take away here are simple. Prides free and very powerful. It’s something that starts so small but can have a big impact. What I learned about pride and ownership in my first years on the job I took with me to later companies I was assigned to and the results were always the same. It’s a recipe for success that anyone can do. Its only ingredients are ambition and a decision to do it. So next time you find yourself in a house of empty walls and low morale, you’ll know what to do.

  • Chris Tobin