Renaissance Rising

The Culture of Extinguishment 

Chris Tobin

If you look up the definition of renaissance you’ll find it means “a revival or renewed interest in something, a rebirth of old ways” I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what is happening in today’s fire service. The motivation for this article came from The Journeyman Fire Conference I had just attended. Over a three-day period firefighters from across the country and Canada came to be with like-minded highly motivated individuals whose message was basically that interior firefighting is not dead, that our primary mission is still relevant as ever and we’re tired of sitting idly by while the degradation of true grit in the fire service erodes away one apprehensive article at a time. Make no mistake there is a silent majority rising up in the ranks of the trade. Its more evident with every new fire conference. Its an unbridled ambition never before seen by those who were sold gimmicks, scare rhetoric and who were persecuted for their convictions by those who never had the intestinal fortitude in the first place.

Additionally the science and studies are fantastic and if anything validated those of us in the street.

We were taught aggressive was a bad word. We were wrong to put ourselves first but yet needed better customer service. Roofs were all going to collapse under us and when someones house was on fire that they probably had insurance so don’t go in if nobodies trapped. It was that scare rhetoric which spawned an underground of firemanship. For over a decade many sat quietly gaining experience waiting for the right time. Meanwhile EMS came to the forefront, missions creeped HAZMAT, RIT training and bailout overshadowed the basics while our live fire training became less and less realistic. We were called reckless, dangerous or against change when in reality we were the most ambitious, motivated ones in our agencies. Naturally, many took jobs in busy urban departments doing everything they’ve been previously taught to avoid while seeing first hand the life saving benefits of those “reckless” tactics.

Today’s youngest generation of firefighters don’t have to sit through hours of “Everyone Goes Home” training addressing the 100 firefighters we kill every year being too aggressive. That a culture of safety is the answer and the taxpayers always come second to us. The voices calling for a cultural change aren’t nearly as loud as before. Data has won the day and the street kept us honest. Today’s audiences want intuitive knowledge and facts not rhetoric or opinions. The information at their fingertips is infinite.  Millennials don’t want to hear about percentages or numbers they want wisdom, insight and tips they can’t find on a smart phone. Conversely those with the most information are those with the least amount of actual fire experience in a time when experience is at an all time premium.  It will be those with it who will have the most influence.

The pendulum swung in the wrong direction far too long and now its our time to set the mission back on track. Those of us who were indoctrinated early in our careers with agendas of change by the apprehensive are now the ones filling the auditoriums. Timid minds are silenced with bold actions and that’s the type of behavior by those out front. You’re going to start seeing more and more classes and conferences focused on getting the strategy back inside the building on fire. Whether it’s the 1st line, 2nd line, search, ladders or overhaul. You can only talk about the “modern fire environment” for so long until you realize we’ve been in it for 30 years.  Additionally the science and studies are fantastic and if anything validated those of us in the street.  The culture of extinguishment is not only alive and well but gaining momentum. With the shift towards interior tactics comes a need for interior knowledge. In an environment that has become foreign for some it is even more important now than ever to pass on what we’ve learned from those before us. The knowledge skills and abilities honed during the war years are now being reborn and adapted for today’s fire ground.

We were taught aggressive was a bad word. We were wrong to put ourselves first…

With the proliferation of social media connecting 1.2 million firefighters, agendas are being discredited and gimmicks called out. Our youngest members have so much information at their fingertips they’re drowning in it… yet starved for more.  For every ludicrous article written from behind a desk… there are twenty more being penned by those actually doing the work. It’s easy to be led astray in today’s fire service by sub par text books and initiatives claiming to be “next new thing”. But fear not. Because when in doubt look to the street, it never lies. It’s that notion fueling whats on the horizon which is a movement by those with the most passionate unrelenting desire to pass on the basics of firemanship.


The Half Story

Chris Tobin

There will always be debatable hot topics in the fire service, fog vs smooth, interior vs exterior, wood ladders, metal ladders, this helmet vs that one etc etc etc. These debates exist because of they’re subjectivity thus its impossible to definitively be right or wrong. One recent topic that has peaked my interest when talked about is half story construction. Most notably because it’s not a debate at all or at least shouldn’t be anyways. Terminology in the fire service can be a source of debate all in itself with its endemic vernacular, trade jargon and slang. That’s what makes this particular topic even more intriguing. It Is not a firefighting term at all, it Is an architectural term used in a firefighting context. This is important because due to the fact it’s not a subjective jargon it can conversely be defined with objective terminology making it either right or wrong. There’s no grey area with half story construction, it either is or it is not and that’s where things start to get uncomfortable in conversation especially if you’re a Chief who’s department has been sizing up buildings inaccurately your entire career.

…my response to them is “you’re the reason why this problem exists”…

Now one might say in defense that their department considers half stories a “full story” or “attics” and I my response to them is “you’re the reason why this problem exists”. By taking a well defined architectural term and incorrectly applying it as jargon only creates needless problems for our trade and honestly it makes you sound uneducated. Now you might ask yourself why does this even matter? Why does knowing how to correctly identify this type of construction offer any value at all? Because of two very important characteristics of half story construction, knee walls and roof type. Most notably the top floor voids inherently created by knee walls that you won’t encounter in a full story. Top floor fires in half story construction are a game changer to any IC. These construction features set up a very dangerous set of conditions that are covered here in great detail… Killer in the Attic: Fire Operations in Half-Stories

The point of this article is to address the knowledge gap of identifying half stories on arrival and what the actual definition of one is. I’ve made several social media posts in the past using all sorts of visual aids and graphics to some avail. There always seems to be a portion of the audience that are either still confused or not in agreement so it’s time we clear the air and get the facts straight. A lot of the confusion can be addressed locally by becoming intimately familiar with your building stock. There’s all sorts of misleading characteristics in half stories. False dormers, split floor levels, attic windows and in some cases a hybrid full story and half story construction in the same building typically a loft over an attached garage. All these things can be ruled out or expected if you’re familiar with the buildings in your area. I know in mine 99% of the time what appears to be a half story is a half story, but it’s because I know false dormers or split levels among others aren’t prevailing construction features in my city.

The Size Up

The size up is integral, since building construction is the one uncontrollable factor of every fire ground that directly or indirectly controls everything on it. Knowledge and avoidance are the only tactics we can use for a dangerous building. Everything else… we have the tools to mitigate. When sizing up a building it is important to include half story in your radio traffic. This conveys to incoming units the inherent challenges and the fact you’re dealing with some sort of pitched roof. The limitation of any size up is it’s only as good as what you can see unless you have previous knowledge… ie a preplan. There are many exterior clues but ultimately the only definitive way to know you’re dealing with a half story containing a habitable space is by making entry. Using exterior indicators combined with local knowledge one can usually make a correct assessment from the outside. (yes, there are rare exceptions)

The Definition

Keep in mind you can have a half story without an occupied space on the top floor. Many get hung up or confused on this. The use of the space does not denote the definition, the construction features do. A half story is dependent on interior wall height and where the roof line terminates. You can have this space accessible by interior stairs but not used as livable space. This still means it’s a half story… and all the inherent problems of half stories will still be present due to how it’s framed not how it’s used. If the top floor doesn’t have full 8ft ceilings thus creating knee walls and the roof line terminates at floor level on the top story making the exterior walls part of the roof then it’s half story construction. If you Google half story definition you’ll get multiple versions of the same basic terminology. Most are used in the home appraisal industry. Keep in mind any height can be a half story you can have a 95 and a half story building depending on its top floor construction. Do not confuse this definition with attics. In North America an attic is a non habitable space for storage inaccessible by stairs. In Europe attics that doubled as living space were called garrets. That’s where some of the confusion starts. Attics have different definitions depending on era and region. Half stories can have attics also and most do, accessible by a small attic scuttle and only used for running utilities or limited storage.

Exterior Indicators

As already covered the big indication of half story construction is where the roof line terminates. If the rooflines above the top floor windows contain 8ft walls then it’s a full story. If it’s at floor level of the top story then it’s a half story. Your attention should be on the top floor. That’s where all your exterior indicators will be. The next big clue are dormer windows, yes there are false dormers but that’s why you rule this out by the presence of gable windows. I have never known anyone to hang a false gable window into a gable wall, that would be asinine. False dormers are usually smaller, without curtains and are accompanied by gable attic vents. If you have large dormer windows with side gable windows that’s a enough indication to include half story in a size up. It’s always better to err on the side off caution than not. There are indicators of living space also. These will be blinds, curtains, lamps and window AC units. Typically people don’t put those in attic windows.

The following are some photos with notations for reference and to show the variance of architectural styles of half stories.

All things considered there’s always exceptions but by combining multiple pieces of information one can be confident they’re making an accurate size up. I hope this article has helped those with difficulty identifying half story construction.


The Senior Man

Chris Tobin

So, when I first decided to write this article I wanted to make it something different. Any quick Google search of “The Senior Man” will get you multiple well written articles on the subject. I thought to myself how I could make that happen instead of just re-writing about the same subject. Then it hit me, why not just ask them? Instead of me telling you about what it means to be a Senior Man of a company I’d let them tell me in their own words. It would be a unique perspective. You want to know the importance of the Senior Man? Let’s hear what they had to say.

Before we get to that, let’s take a moment to cover what the Senior Man is all about. For the most part you can go into any firehouse in America where firefighters are working and ask “Who’s the Senior Man?”. Chances are you’ll be greeted by an older, more experienced, jovial individual who, just by their body language, projects some sort of confidence or command presence. Don’t let the term fool you, women are just as likely to fill this role as men. The bottom line is no matter where you go, every Firefighter you ask can without hesitation tell you who the senior man is on their company. That should go to show you the value of these individuals. These are the members with decades of experience or have by far, the most time on amongst the crew. They’ve “been there done that seen everything” but are yet humbled and seek only to pass on what they know, not brag, boast or self-promote. They lack the typical hubris of far too many in the Fire Service. Its these defining qualities that any recognized Senior Man exudes. It’s the epitome of the informal leader, there’s no promotional exam or study material for this position. It’s bestowed upon you by your peers. 

This role has many hats but no rank, just respect. It’s the “go to” person for newer members with questions. When conflicts arise, a good Senior Man will quickly step in before the Officer must. This keeping of the balance is also why they’re respected by the officers just as much. It’s a go between role between the crew and officer, a critical bridge of communication. The crew members will go to the Senior Man before the Officer and the Officer will go to the Senior Man to address issues on an informal basis. Another more practical aspect of the senior man is their level of actual firefighting experience. One can say “you follow an Officer’s orders into danger, but it’s the Senior Man who you are actually following into it”. These members provide a safety net of past experiences to the younger, less seasoned of the crew. It’s a built in over watch for when the crew is doing work that involves a high level of risk. Therefore, smart officers will pair senior members with younger ones on the fire ground. It’s a synergistic luxury if you have the means to do so. So that about covers what the senior man is all about, now let’s see what the actual senior men have to say.

Ask any old-timer, the time flies by on this job, how do you want to be remembered?

“There is definitely a thing called leadership from the bottom. It means showing up early every shift, and being able to play whatever position they need you in that day, be it senior man, acting officer, acting engineer, etc. Being a senior man means keeping an eye on newer folks, and mentoring them, not just talking about how much time on you have and what you have done. It also means having your finger on the pulse of the firehouse, and taking care of little problems before they become big ones. This mainly has to do with personnel relations, sometimes it means having sit downs with people before the officer has to, because once they get involved things have to be on paper, and that creates more tension for everyone. And finally, I would say it means setting a good example because you want to. Ask any old-timer, the time flies by on this job, how do you want to be remembered?” 
Jeremiah Herderich
Denver Fire Department
Firefighter First Grade.
19 years in the Fire Service 

“Never think you know it all, ’cause you don’t. If you get to that point, give the reins to someone else.”

“The senior man is not a “test” position, it’s a position that kinda just happens to the most senior guy on truck. You get the title by being “that  guy.” A lot of times you may not want the title but end up with it anyway.  If you are “that guy” you need to embrace the title and position. Be the teacher to the other guys, be the go to guy on your rig. The senior man should know the rig as good as, if not better, than the officer.  He should be a good station guy, do your share of house duties but be able to delegate out as well.  He should be the liaison to the officers, the go between for the other guys. He should be able to weed out non-essential BS that the officer doesn’t need to worry about. But most, the senior man needs to be a “Fireman” not just an employee or pension thief or yard breather or whatever name you give. Be true to the profession and always be a student. Never think you know it all, ‘cause you don’t. If you get to that point give the reins to someone else.” 
Chicago Fire Dept
22 years in the Fire Service

“I believe that being a senior fireman on the Memphis Fire Department means setting the example, passing on my experience, and leading from the front.”

“Being the senior man means being the go-to guy, being the one to teach and instill knowledge and skills to the newer firefighters. Personally, I don’t usually tell lesser experienced guys to take task, I take it upon myself to complete the task and set an example in hopes that they follow suit. Whenever possible, I try to include less experienced firefighters and use teachable moments to share my experience and wisdom that I have gained on the job. Rather than watch a new firefighter fail at a new task, I want to assure that they have what it takes to be successful and know that they were given the same opportunities I was given as a probie. In short, I believe that being a senior fireman on the Memphis Fire
Department means setting the example, passing on my experience, and leading from the front.”

Hugh Doyle
Memphis Fire Dept
Engine 17 
15 years in the Fire Service

“To have the knowledge of knowing when something’s not right on the fireground. You’re the one the newer members look up to and approach with questions.”

“It takes dedication on the job, as well as having a passion for the job. The willingness to share their knowledge that they have acquired over the years. They are willing to take a newer, younger firefighter under their wing and show them the ropes. To have the knowledge of knowing when something’s not right on the fire ground. You’re the one the newer members look up to and approach with questions. The biggest thing when it comes to being a senior man is training and the willingness to learn.”
Ron Schroader
St Louis Fire Dept
Rescue Squad 2
29 years in the Fire Service

“I work to make my platoon to be the strongest in the firehouse. That, through my example, is the platoon that’s full of pride for the company, the department, and the fire service.”

“I strive every shift to be the senior guy that says, “Hey gang, let’s go over this. Let me show you how it’s done and why we do it this way.” and have a strong training experience. I work to make my platoon to be the strongest in the firehouse. That, through my example, is the platoon that’s full of pride; for the company, the department, and the fire service. The “go to” crew when something needs doing, whether in the station or on the fireground. When members transfer out to busier houses, I want them prepared for as much as possible in their new assignment, so their new company says, “Hey, this kid has their stuff together. We’re lucky to have them.” Most of all, I want them to become the senior firefighter in their house and be an example for the younger firefighters that come to them. That’s my take on being the senior firefighter.”
Ray Clothier
Philadelphia Fire Department
21 years in the Fire Service


To Boldly Go!

Chris Tobin

I’ve often said that the hardest step a fireman takes on the fire ground is a step back. Everything we do is hard charging, lights and sirens, full speed ahead. We don’t like hearing “evacuate the building”. That being said, the hardest step a fireman takes on the training ground is the first one. That proverbial leap of faith every new instructor has ever taken. It can seem like an insurmountable wall of self doubt laid with bricks of insecurity. Simply put, it’s fear of the unknown. You wanna break a fireman’s ego? Put them in front of their peers, it’s sink or swim and there’s no lifeguard on duty.

   Ask any instructor in the fire service and they’ll be able to tell you without hesitation the first time they were in front of a classroom or that company drill they ran. I can tell you mine was not by choice and rather improvised. It was in 2006 while in a chiefs meeting on my first day at a new station. He asked what skills were my weak points and I said “ropes and knots without a doubt” and the response I got was completely unexpected. He said… 

“Well that’s perfect we have a spot open on the Heavy Rescue and training at 1pm. I want you to do today’s training on basic knots” 

I didn’t know what had happened but I knew I had about 3 hours to come up with a PowerPoint presentation and to figure out how I was supposed to convince anyone I was proficient at ropes and knots. I don’t know how many bowlines, clove hitches and figure eights one can tie in three hours but it felt like the world record. In the end the Chiefs idea was brilliant, I threw together a quick presentation and came out with more confidence of knots than I ever had. It not only refreshed a skill for me but also broke the ice with the crew members. Even though I had put on the class it naturally turned into one big informal training with all of us throwing in tips and practicing knots together.

   Now looking back on my first company drill was no big deal but at the time I was pretty nervous It was overcoming moments like that which gave me the confidence to step out on the circuit.This seems to be a recurring theme with anyone who wants to get started but isn’t quite sure of themselves to take the leap. They have the drive, the ambition, the passion and knowledge but there’s that little bit of doubt holding them back.

It’s always the same reasons. 

“I don’t have enough experience”
“ I’m not a good speaker”
“I’m not on a big Department”
“I don’t have anything to offer” 

   In reality none of those are the real issue. The main reason is the simple fact we don’t know how our peers will perceive us. With every action comes reaction and everything you say will be critiqued by your audience. Every instructor out there knows criticism comes with the territory and if you can’t handle it then find something else, you won’t last. Not everyone will agree with your material and they don’t have to. What fun would that be?

   All that aside the bottom line remains. There’s 1.2 million American Firefighters and they all need training. Every firefighter has 3 obligations once they raise their right hand. To serve, to learn and to pass on. 2/3rds of that philosophy goes back into the job the other third goes to those we serve. That’s how the fire service continuously stays ahead in our mission to save lives and property. The truth is we’re all instructors one way or another. Even the newest members of a Dept have something to offer on a company level. 

   So I challenge you with this question. What knowledge or skill have you passed on recently? If you can’t readily answer that then you’re doing the job a great disservice. There is no excuse to sit idly by while a new generation of firefighters seek knowledge. We are in the age of declining fire, now more than ever experience of our trade is at the highest premium. Now is your time to get out there and share what you know. Whether it’s a social media post, an FDIC presentation or anything in between today is your day.

What are you waiting for?


Pack Your Parachute

Lex Shady

In the skydiving world, there’s one thing that can literally make or break your jump: is your parachute packed correctly? Back in the day, parachutes were round, so it didn’t really matter how they were packed. As long as the lines weren’t tangled, you were pretty much good to go. Today’s jumpers use a more sophisticated style of parachute that is “wing shaped” to allow for optimum flying. Because of this, the importance of a properly packed, or “rigged” chute as they call it in the skydiving world, is now extremely important. The chute must be packed just right so that it will fill with air in the correct orientation immediately upon opening, as well as ensuring the lines don’t get tangled.

Like every vocation, there is a debate in the jumping world as to whether it’s better to pack your own chute, or pay to have someone pack it for you. The consensus appears to be: if you want something done right, do it yourself. Then there’s the big question: what happens if your original chute malfunctions, or catastrophically fails? Well, that’s what your reserve is for. Reserves must be packed by certified “FAA Riggers.” To become a certified FAA Rigger one must successfully pass a written, oral, and practical exam.

I’m sure by this time you’re wondering, what’s your point? Well, in the firefighting world, there’s one thing that can literally make or break your day: is your SCBA functioning correctly? Back in the day, firemen didn’t wear respiratory protection, many grew beards as a form of primitive protection, so the only thing they had to worry about was if it was long enough to “filter” the air. This eventually transitioned to some firemen using various forms of particulate masks, or a hood. As we all know, today we use a much more sophisticated style of respiratory protection, the SCBA. Because of this, a properly checked SCBA is now extremely important. The SCBA must be checked that the pack is free of debris and damage, the bottle is full, the hoses are connected and not leaking, straps are fully extended, and the pass device and low air alarms are in working order. Not to mention checking your face piece to be sure it is clean and free of damage, your heads up device is working properly, coms are clear, and finally that all of your equipment is set up for optimal masking up time.

Unlike the skydiving world, there is no backup. What happens if your SCBA fails? Well, I guess you better hope you’re not in an IDLH environment. We also don’t have a “certified SCBA inspector” to check our pack everyday. That’s you. Knowing all of this, why would you trust your equipment to the off going shift? Not to say they’re bad firemen, but things happen. And, let’s be honest. “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

You would think by now we wouldn’t have to have this conversation, but the number of people that for whatever reason don’t fully check their equipment everyday would surprise you. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people where this is the expectation, but not everyone is. It’s one of the best feelings to walk in the firehouse at the beginning of a shift and hear saws running, pass alarms going off, and seeing guys inspecting their gear. If you’re not this lucky, be the person to influence that change. 30 year guy, or new kid, doesn’t matter. Walk in the firehouse and make it the first thing you do when you make relief, then you can get your coffee.

And by the way, full is full, and nothing less.

femalefirefighters Firefighter Firefighting Motivational

I am the Problem.

Lex Shady

I am the problem. Other women like me, who want to put a stop to all the noise and just do the job, are the problem. Sometimes, the problem is the solution.

Some of you will not like what I’m about to say, and that’s okay. I’ll make this clear, I don’t care. You don’t agree with me? You’re entitled to your opinion, but remember, I am too. What’s not acceptable is attacking someone for having opinions that differ from yours. We fight for rights for women and call ourselves “feminists” but attack the nearest one who dares to differ from our opinion. Well, I’m done with that conversation. So here we go: it’s 2020 and you’re a woman in the fire service, you’re the first for your department, or you just ran your first all girl crew? Congrats, I don’t care. What I do care about is what you did to earn that spot, and what you will continue to do to make yourself and the job better.

The constant back and forth battle of what women should call themselves is frustrating, exhausting, and frankly has no place in today’s fire service. I’m angry that it takes priority in conversations. Why, when I share an article on building construction, is the primary feedback the fact that the title says “Fireman” instead of “Firefighter”? Why are we not focused on the real problem, that the majority of us don’t fully understand the buildings we’re crawling in to? Are we really that insecure of our place in the industry that we are defined by a word? They say spite is just motivated anger, so trigger warning: I am a female, and I am a fireman. Merriam Webster defines fireman as “a member of a fire department.” I love the tradition of the word. Don’t lecture me on how the “traditional” fire service doesn’t include women. At the time you are referring to where there were few to no women on the job, there were hardly any women in the work force. It’s not a fair comparison, and frankly taking it out of context. Some say we could choose to use the word firefighter to be more “inclusive.” If you choose to, good for you, as a fellow fireman says, “there’s no right or wrong in the fire service: just best, better, and different.”

Before you attack me, understand that I have the right to have this opinion. I was the first female on both my volunteer and paid departments. The guys had to get used to having a “girl” around. We have an open bunk and locker room, they had to adjust where they change and sleep. I didn’t ask for it, but they hung curtains at the ends of the beds for privacy- for everyone. We have one bathroom which is used to shower. There’s now a flip sign hung that we can change from men to women. They had to order smaller everything, from turnout gear to EMS gloves. I in turn had to prove myself to my guys, that I had what it takes; both mentally and physically to do the job. But here’s the thing, every new hire does. That’s not some sexist “prove your worth” thing because I am a woman. There is unfortunately a stereotype about women in the industry. I firmly believe this discussion fuels that problem. I like to think I proved that definition didn’t fit me, and that I’m just another member of the crew.

I have one question: we’re not supposed to call ourselves firemen, are we not allowed to use the word “woman” anymore either? God forbid it has the word “man” in it. Must I refer to myself simply as “female” instead? If you can’t see that there are more important things for us to be worried about than what we call ourselves, then you and I are not going to get along. It’s been proven to me more times that I can count that the people who focus on telling you who they are, more than what they know, don’t really know anything. So I’m taking the advice of others before me and trying not to let my emotions be the messenger. But let’s be real; being triggered by a simple word tells me a lot of what I need to know about you. Keyboard warriors who sit behind a screen and belittle those who are trying to do the work. Well ladies, it’s really no surprise to me: soft hands equal soft feelings.

We’ve spent decades trying to earn our place as “equal to men,” yet for some women, when they enter the fire service they suddenly want to be treated as different. With the exception of properly fitting gear, which I’ll admit is sometimes hard to find, you should have zero expectations as far as the department making changes for you. I hear complaining on physical fitness standards, how they’re aimed at failing women. How expectations and standards should be lowered because “a woman couldn’t possibly pass that.” No lady, just put in the extra effort. Firefighting is hard, the standards should be hard to meet too. Plaster and lathe isn’t going to suddenly overhaul itself when you swing the axe and it realizes you’re not a man. I have failed more physical agility tests than I want to admit. But did I go back to the department and demand they change them? No. I trained harder until I was able to pass.

We demand private sleeping arrangements and bathrooms like we think every male we work with is going to attack us or violate our privacy. Don’t get me wrong, I know that stuff happens, but it’s not the majority, and it has the potential to happen in any job. It’s not unreasonable to want a bathroom door with a lock to shower or change, but you shouldn’t expect your department to give you your own space just because you’re a woman. How many restaurants or stores have you gone too that had single stall restrooms that were gender neutral? God forbid you have a hazmat fire run, or biohazard EMS call and you have to strip down in the bay- if you can’t trust your guys to be respectful of you in a sports bra and underwear, why in the world are we trusting them on a fire run in people’s homes, or in the back of a medic alone with a patient?

I fully respect and understand those of you who came before us and paved the way. I look up to you and appreciate the struggles you went through to join a male dominated industry. I’m honored to have met some of you, and call a special few my friends and mentors. Some of you had vastly different experiences than most are today. I’m not going to discount that. I understand that 20+ years ago being a female in the fire service was an uphill battle that probably felt like you were climbing Mount Everest. I also understand that everyone’s experiences are different, but focusing on the problem doesn’t make it go away. It’s all about perception. So instead of continuing to focus on gender as some obstacle we must overcome (as if you can control it) focus on being better at the job. Today there are still some uphill battles, I myself have had to explain that “no sir, I’m not just an EMT.” And “yes ma’am they do let girls drive the trucks now.” I once even had to explain to a guest in our station that I wasn’t “in my place in the kitchen,” I was the driver that day, which meant I was in charge of cooking. But do I dwell on this and let it warp my opinion of the industry and those we serve? No, I laugh it off and move on.

Honestly, I’ve been torn down more by other women in the industry than men. Why is it that as “powerful women” we claim to support each other and want equality, yet the dogs attack if opinions differ. I’ve had tenured woman tell me that I’m too new to understand, as if I haven’t had some of my own hills to climb. I’ve been told to “come back and talk too me after 25 years,” as if after all that time I’ll be a hardened man-hater. I don’t need to be on the job for 25 years to know that if men had a group called “Masculine Male Firemen” there would be an uproar of hatred. I respect the point of groups where there are only women, it’s a place to allow individuals to ask personal questions and get support. However, lately most of what I’ve seen has included mostly bashing on men or ranting about how “poorly” women are treated. I think they’ve lost sight of their purpose. I also don’t need to be at retirement to tell you that the most important thing to know about someone isn’t their title, but their experience and what they did for others. Principles have no tenure.

Let’s have a history lesson. Women have been in the fire service in the U.S. for over 200 years. The first known was Molly Williams in 1815. Molly was an African American slave who became a member of Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City. The first documented all-women’s fire brigade was at Girton Ladies’ College in Great Britain from 1878-1932. From 1910-1920 there were all women volunteer fire companies in Maryland and California, and another formed in Texas in the 1960s. With the passing of the Civil Rights Act, the first career women firefighters were hired in the1960s.This being said, I will never understand why in 2020 is it still such a huge deal when a woman is hired on a department, or when a truck is run by women. Why we scream for inclusivity and equality, but then purposefully say “look at me I’m a girl.” In the thickness of smoke and sweat your only identity is your ability.

I go to work everyday with the intention of setting myself apart, not to be better than the guys I work with, but to be better than I was my last shift. Your goal should be to set yourself apart by your work ethic, not your gender. So instead of focusing on what we are, let’s focus on things we can change. The public doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman. What they do care about is if you can do the job when the time comes. So instead of focusing on trivial issues, lets take our attention to the thing that matters most: quality, realistic, and relevant training. Let’s focus on on the community we serve, and remember “nobody gives a shit what you are on the fireground as long as you’re capable.”

Building Construction Firefighter Firefighting

The Fireman’s Guide to Main Street: 5 Buildings to Know, Part 2

Lex Shady & Chris Tobin

There is a quote that I believe represents the vast majority of the fire service concerning buildings, it reads;

“Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray.”

Thoreau, Henry

Simply put, we all see buildings but few understand what they’re actually looking at. That’s a problem, a really big problem and for two important reasons; which are a building is the one thing that directly or indirectly effects everything we do on the fire ground, and the only thing we can do about a compromised building is avoid it entirely. We show up with no solution to sagging roofs, crumbling walls, or missing floors other than staying away. We can mitigate smoke, fire, and rescue trapped victims but we can do nothing about the leaning wall. It’s this stark reality that many forget and have paid the price. You can know all there is about fire behavior, your tools and strategies, none of which hold any value if you’re unfamiliar with the space in which they are relied upon. Some may say all fires are the same, which is true until you put one in a building. Behind every door are an infinite amount of variables, some known, some unknown and some unexpected. This is why nothing’s routine till it’s over and why knowing your buildings on a visceral level is paramount. If you want to be able to forward think you must understand the data you’re receiving.

This will be a five part series exclusively examining five different types of legacy construction, each with its own article as it pertains to firefighting. The types of buildings were selected based on their prominence in today’s main streets and historic districts. These specific types of buildings exist in small towns from coast to coast but more commonly found East of the Mississippi River where our national building stock originated before moving Westward.

The five buildings are the old house, the taxpayer, the old mill, the vacant theater, and the bowling alley. Each of these will be examined along with inherent hazards and a play book for handling fires specific to each occupancy. Additionally since many of these buildings are found in small towns with departments that may not have the adequate resources, there will be a section based on short staffed responses for each. The objective of this series is to present the most useful amount of information in the least amount of space. Each of these buildings are worthy of their own book in themselves, this series is meant to be concise and simple information for any level of firefighter. As with any article on architecture, regional vernacular and Departmental jargon may vary. Nothing in this piece is the final say, only the individual reader and their streets can make that claim.

Part 2

The Building

The Type 3 Taxpayer: AKA “Main-street USA”. These are the quintessential multi-story brick buildings that exist in some version in every North American town, big or small. Ordinary Type 3 construction is by far the most common type of buildings that make up what most consider Main Street. The notion that brick buildings are an “urban thing” is no further from the truth. Take a drive through any rural community and you’ll likely see a row or what’s left of an old general store, post office, or bank. These may be the only brick buildings for miles, but they are still the center of town and no less a fire hazard. For some rural fire departments that only go on a few dozen runs per year, a fire in a two or three story brick building built in 1909 will be an unfamiliar playing field.

The term taxpayer originates from a time period during which buildings were cheaply constructed in densely populated places so that property managers could recoup their property taxes. This manifested itself into a multi story brick building, with commercial occupancy on the bottom floor and residential on the upper floors. These buildings came into popularity after the Great Depression with the intent to be redeveloped, many of which were not and still exist. This definition has evolved with modern times to include type 2 non-combustible strip malls. For the sake of this article, we’ll be specifically speaking of the traditional definition of a taxpayer type building; a type 3 multistory, mixed use occupancy with commercial on the first floor and residential above.

Main streets in general exist in three types of configurations. The aforementioned, as an actual street fronted with legacy construction, a Shelbyville Square, or four sided town square built around a courthouse or common area, and lastly as a historic district with multiple blocks of taxpayer type buildings. This matters when preplanning incident action plans since a row of connected taxpayers is more hazardous than single buildings separated by gangways. Also, if you have a town square or multiple blocks of historic districts you may have roundabouts that will affect apparatus positioning differently than a traditional linear Main Street, as well as collapse zones for aerial master streams.

The buildings of taxpayer construction come in all shapes and sizes. They can be type 2, 3, and 4. Some have metal truss roof supports, cast iron columns, concrete floors, and heavy timber void-less layouts. The most common by a wide margin is the type 3 Ordinary building. This taxpayer will be masonry non-combustible walls with wooden combustible roof, floors, and interior walls. Foundations are typically stone with variably sized basements for storage. Keep in mind these may be connected to adjacent buildings or even across the street. Even if basements are not common in your areas residential building stock, they may be present in taxpayer buildings. Basements were cooler and a way for businesses to keep produce and stock before refrigeration.

Taxpayers are full of unique features that can make fighting a fire in these buildings a challenge. Typically found in rows of connected buildings their inherent exposure problems are an obvious concern. Occupancies may also share what was originally designed to be two separate buildings separated by a party wall. Renovations can make these layouts impossible to anticipate without preplanning. The masonry brick walls will be of triple wythe, tapering up as the building gets taller. This is important to understand when sizing up structural integrity. A crack down low doesn’t mean the same as a crack up high. Load bearing walls will be the shortest length of roof span, typically the sides with few exceptions. These buildings were long, narrow, and a perfect fit for densely populated lots. Roof designs can be either pitched or flat; however, a built up combustible flat roof is far more common on Taxpayers than a shingled pitched roof. The built-up flat roof consists of 1×6-1×8 planks across dimensional rafters on 16” centers with a slight slope for watershed. Expect multiple layers of tar applied over the decades, in some cases a newer membrane roof covering may have been put in place. Taxpayers with flat roof construction will have a cockloft. This is a common void between the top floor ceiling and roof that extends front to back getting smaller with the roof slope. Cockloft vents near the roof line in the front or side walls are an indication of its exact depth and presence in relation to the roof which may have side parapet walls. Taxpayers have three types of common facade features to beware of; cornices, parapets, and awnings. More will be discussed about these and their hazards later on. Additionally, billboard framework and water towers weren’t uncommon loads to find on top of these buildings. Cast iron is yet another facade design feature common for Taxpayers. These were often brightly painted ornate pillars, columns, and lintel work set into the brick, or supporting the bottom corner entrance of the business. The first floor also had large windows for viewing products by pedestrian traffic.

The residential aspect of these buildings was more of an afterthought during construction; their main function was to sell something, not be a home. The upper floors were accessible from either a front set of stairs off the main street or a rear alley. In a row of connected taxpayers it can be hard to tell which door accesses which upper floor apartment. Depending on the occupancy there may be a set of open interior stairs making any first floor fire even more detrimental to those above. The typical layout was bedrooms and common areas up front with kitchens in the rear. In shotgun style layouts the stairs come into the middle room. In wider buildings a side hallway was common. It is important to consider this if your stairs are in the rear and you’re stretching a line to a 2nd floor fire on the A side.

The Hazards

Taxpayers are infamously known to firefighters for their voids. There are two kinds of voids in Type 3 buildings: inherent and acquired. Inherent voids are due to the buildings original design and acquired voids are due to additional construction and alterations. The latter being much more hazardous to firefighters since additions were commonly done without permits or with any regard to fire safety or building codes.

Inherent voids of type 3 Taxpayer construction:

Cornice work, mansard parapets, wood framed canopies and awnings

Window frame voids for sash weights

Decorative trim and crown molding

Floor voids

Ceiling voids

Stud bays behind plaster & lath


Pipe chases

HVAC plenums

Cant stripping along parapet walls

Acquired voids commonly seen in Taxpayer construction:

Dropped ceiling on the bottom floor creating a double void under tin ceiling

Dropped ceiling on top floor creating a double void under a cockloft

Transom windows concealed with framed canopies or dropped ceilings

Hallways framed off into closets

Larger original rooms being framed into smaller rooms

Rear additions, enclosed porches into living space

Rain roofs added on top of original flat roof

These are just the commonly occurring voids in type 3 ordinary construction, there can be many more. The main takeaway is knowing where to expect the fire before it gets there. A good firefighter will build the skill of foresight in legacy construction. The benefit being a more effective and efficient operation. Preplanning and studying the construction of your districts are the first steps to accomplishing this. These buildings will often have legacy construction features making overhaul much more laborious. These include embellished trim work, crown moulding, tin ceilings and wainscoting.

The voids in these buildings also contribute to another well known hazard; the hostile fire event. Whether a backdraft or smoke explosion, either can be just as catastrophic. These hazards are two-fold, the initial hostile fire event and the ensuing collapse of structural members. This can set up a synergistic effect of calamity on the fireground.

The inherent/acquired voids and design of Taxpayers make them a high risk for both floor and exterior wall collapse. Fire cuts are angled cuts on the end of a wood beam, where it rests against a masonry wall. As the beam burns away, the fire cut allows it to pull away from the wall. The purpose of these cuts is to help save the exterior wall from collapse. The disadvantage is the increased potential for interior floor collapse. This was a construction feature from a time when firefighting was an exterior operation, keeping firemen safe. Terrazzo floors, polished floor covering made of chips of marble, quartz, glass, etc. poured into cement are another significant collapse hazard. Terrazzo floors add significant weight to the floor beams, and hides heat and weakness in the beams from the firefighters above. Twelve firefighters were killed at the 23rd Street Fire in New York City in 1966 from a Terrazzo floor collapse. To evaluate the floor’s structural integrity, forcefully strike the floor with your tool. Wooden floors make a hollow sound, and your tool with bounce significantly. Masonry floors will make a loud clanking sound with a lot of vibration across the floor. Finding Terrazzo floors needs to be communicated to Command immediately.

There are three ways a masonry wall can collapse: 90 degree angle, curtain fail, and inward/outward. Of the three, 90 degree is most common. Once interior floors collapse, the pile of debris creates a lateral force on the remaining exterior walls. This extra force on the walls can cause cracks at the top, or separation at the corners. The walls then begin to lean outward, starting at the top, and will fall at a 90 degree angle. This collapse area will be at minimum, the height of the building. The top of the wall falls forward, striking the ground at the height of the building. As always collapse zones need to be at least 1.5x the height of the building to account for pieces of brick and metal that bounce. Parapet walls with decorations, lights, signs, etc. increase the collapse risk of the wall.

Photo Credit: Brianna Mason

Curtain fall collapses occur when the wall crumbles and falls down, straight to the base of the wall. This is most common with veneer walls where the plywood backing is burnt away by fire. If there is an interior collapse and the exterior wall has windows whose lintels are made of brick arches, the masonry walls may start to lean out. If the lintels begin to crumble and fail, the wall will fall downward rather than out.

Photo Credit: Brianna Mason

Inward/outward collapse occurs when the top of the wall falls one direction, forcing the bottom of the wall in the other. Interior floors collapsing due to fire damage combined with the weight of the water being applied to the building; in turn, a massive burst of force is applied on the outward walls, which causes them to lean outward until they reach the point of failure and fall. An inward/outward collapse can also occur if the top portion of the wall begins to lean in. Just because the wall leans in, doesn’t mean it will collapse that way. The top portion could fall in and kick the bottom portion outward, or the top portion could begin to fall in, and then slide down, with the bottom of the wall going first.

Photo Credit: Brianna Mason

Evaluating walls for collapse risk needs to be done continuously throughout the entirety of the fire scene. Interior floor collapse increases the risk of the exterior walls failing. The force of a master stream directly on these walls can also cause the wall to collapse. To identify whether the wall is brick or veneer, look for quoin work in the corners or for what is referred to as the header course. Brick quoin work acts as a decoration and as structural support, tying the two walls together. If there is separation in these walls, it indicates weakness in the support systems, and collapse is imminent. Header course appears approximately every 7th layer; bricks will be laid end facing to act as a layer of support.

The Playbook

Size up is key in Type 3 Taxpayer buildings. Before any action can be taken, the structural integrity of the building must be assessed. Brick and joist construction has a high collapse potential, and compromised structural integrity is the one problem with no solution other than avoidance. Keep an eye on cracks above windows and doors; openings are inherent weak points in any wall, so they’re early indicators of wall collapse. If cornice work or a mansard brow is heavily involved, avoid the front entrance if possible. Cornices come down like a guillotine blocking entrances, burying lines and personnel masking up before entry. Buildings connected to one another in a row will have limited access and egress from the front and rear only. Keep this in mind if the front entrance is unsuitable, you’ll have to stretch the line through an adjacent building to the rear if the alley isn’t an option for apparatus placement. If the fire is confined to the cockloft, keep an eye on the parapet wall. Failing roof rafters can push out or pull in parapets. A parapet wall falling inward is just as destructive for those inside under a roof as those in the street when one falls outward. Floors are the next structural assessment, particularly the first floor, since basements commonly have open joist construction unprotected by plaster, making basement fires particularly hazardous. Beware of terrazzo and tiled hard flooring surfaces. These will mask any structural deficiency under them while adding weight to the potentially weakened decking. These surfaces are found in bottom floor business vestibules, stairwell landings, kitchens and bathrooms. Sounding with a tool will give you little indication of the actual wood decking so tread lightly and keep your eyes down for floor separation at the bottom of walls.

Once structural integrity has been assessed and an offensive strategy decided, the next key decision is your weapon of choice. Taxpayers present a unique challenge of having commercial fire loads with residential components, so many choose a larger diameter attack line for bottom floor fires. Keep in mind, every action has an equal reaction. What you gain in GPM for the bottom floor you’ll lose in maneuverability on the upper floors. This poses a challenging conundrum of sorts for incident commanders. The optimal choice of attack lines will vary based on conditions, resources, and training. Regardless of your line choice, plan for a long stretch. These fires are not 200ft victories. This is often figured out after the fact, causing valuable time to be wasted extending line under subpar conditions. A fire on an upper floor or basement especially will be a longer than normal hose line length due to stairs and corners. Once these arrival considerations are addressed the objective remains the same; to locate, confine, and extinguish the fire while protecting the upper floor living spaces.

For basement fires a line should be stretched to an exterior entrance if possible; this may be in the front on the sidewalk down bifold doors, but typically it will be in a rear walk down or bulkhead entrance. For interior entrances care must be taken in assessing floor integrity while understanding the greater load of merchandise on top of open joist construction underneath. A second line must be stretched to the first floor to secure egress on interior entrances and to cut off extension. Basements in Taxpayers are usually cramped with stock in storage lockers made of lightweight lumber and wire mesh. Taking this into consideration a smaller diameter, more maneuverable hand line may be more effective. Keep in mind the wire mesh will diminish stream quality if not removed. Basement windows are also commonly secured with burglar bars, so be ready for egress issues that need to be immediately addressed by the first arriving company assigned to truck duties.

First floor fires will be of commercial fire loads so be prepared for commercial fire flows. Forward progress will be slow going; these fires are tough and are almost never seated easily near the front. Rows of merchandise inhibit movement, drop ceilings collapse from HVAC ducts, stocks falls over on hoselines, and high heat zero visibility vent limited conditions are common.

Some places opt for a large diameter hose line as a default while others quickly deploy two smaller diameter hand lines in tandem. One large diameter line may fully extinguish the fire quicker but redeployment to the second or third floor for extension will be greatly diminished compared to smaller more maneuverable hand-lines that occupy more real estate in the same amount of time. One option is leading off with a large diameter line for the first floor fire and stretching a second small diameter line for the upper floors. This gives you the benefit of greater GPM with enhanced maneuverability. The deck gun isn’t typically a good option due to subpar stream angles. Save that card for upper floors.

Fires on the upper floors have two key considerations. First is the likelihood of living space and the second is fire extension into the cockloft. Any fire in a taxpayer on an upper floor has an implied life threat so operations should be conducted in a rescue mode with emphasis on search. If conditions permit, Truck companies should search ahead and close doors confining any rooms of fire while lines are being stretched. VES is a an effective option as well as ladder based entry to upper floors keeping the stairs clear for the Engine company deploying lines. Fires on 3rd floors or higher should be dry stretched one floor below for speed. If overwhelming fire conditions meet you on arrival, don’t hesitate to deploy the deck gun. Make sure to sweep any cornice work above the windows before zeroing in on the rooms of fire. This will slow any lapping into the cockloft and cool the combustible cornice work. Roof operations are implied on any top floor fire in taxpayer construction, even more so in a row of connected type 3 buildings with a common cockloft. This needs to be proactive and happen early in the operations. A report of cockloft conditions needs to be transmitted as soon as possible by roof teams. Assign multiple roof crews downwind to monitor for extension, as well as the top floor of adjacent buildings.

If the fire has taken hold of a cockloft, your options are resource dependent. If you choose offensive roof ops, you have three options; use existing scuttles, skylights and vents, dice a heat hole or holes where needed, or a trench cut. Built up flat roof ventilation is a laborious task requiring numerous saws and more manpower than a residential op. If that’s your play, then position additional crews downwind first and work the party walls if the buildings are connected. The point here is to balance the need:time ratio. If you don’t have the manpower for roof ops, then the work must get done from below by pulling ceilings and extinguishing fire without the assistance of vertical ventilation. This will be a tough endeavor, but it’s possible and may take multiple advances into and out of the fire area by crews pushed back by deteriorating conditions. In this situation it’s best to position crews inside the downwind exposure to pull ceilings along the party wall and hold the fire to the original building.

The last possibility and the most hazardous circumstance on arrival is an impending backdraft situation. If you’re facing high heat vent limited conditions forcefully pushing from the first floor, then you have a few options.

-Flanking at an angle with a large diameter lines

-Remote water application via piercing nozzles, Bresnan distributors

-Remote water application via piercing nozzles, Bresnan distributors

-Vertical ventilation while flowing into the superheated gases before advancing

The inherent voids in Taxpayers makes these conditions a common occurrence. Once again conditions and resources will determine your play. The simplest is by flanking two large diameter hose lines on superheated conditions to cool the environment from outside. Crews are positioned safely at offset angles in case of a backdraft or smoke explosion. Never congregate in front of openings in case of a hostile fire event unexpectedly occurs. Vertical ventilation is the most effective, but obviously a first floor or basement fire in a multi story building limits that option to an extent. One option is opening the display bump-outs inside the front windows. Remote cooling or water application requires some special equipment and training. You may also need to breach a wall or floor which is a time consuming operation. In the end, be cognizant of ventilation limited indicators before haphazardly opening doors and windows leading to a hostile fire event.

The Short Staffed Response

The best thing you can do for these structures is to pre-plan. Short staffed departments do not have the luxury of resources making time all that more important upon arrival on scene. Knowing the inherent risks of each individual building can help you quickly make initial assignments upon arrival. Get your crews out into these buildings- regularly. There are many things to look for during walk throughs, just a few of them are:

– Air vents in the floors indicating basements

– Exterior/interior basement access

– High ceilings in one building, low ceilings in the next indicate it is probably a drop ceiling (void above)

– Parapet walls, marquees, canopies, and cornices as they increase the risk for structural collapse.

– Construction remodeling- legacy vs. lightweight construction

– Location of stairs

– Terrazzo Floors

Modern codes require fire walls between occupancies; however, sometimes these codes are not enforced in existing structures or in older historic districts. When fire gets in a cockloft without fire walls, it can rapidly spread horizontally to the exposure structures on either side. If this occurs, you will not win against these fires with 4-6 firefighters. A “simple” fire in a taxpayer can overwhelm your resources quickly due to the excessive amount of voids we’ve already spoken of. Additional manpower isn’t a want, but a necessity. Refusing to call for more help can result in the loss of an entire block.

As always, situation dictates response. Like every fire, Taxpayer fires need an attack crew for the seat of the fire, protecting stairs/egresses, search, ventilation, and more. With the complexity and variability of commercial and residential properties, successfully fighting these fires is not something you can do with minimum manpower. Big fire, big building, means lots of water. As discussed above, typically the initial attack line we think to pull is a large diameter line. However, with minimum manpower, when advancing through structures such as these; you risk a slow advance on the fire, and you can quickly wear even the most advanced firemen. Short staffed departments may want to automatically opt for the two smaller handlines, if for no other reason than not wearing out your crew. Once additional crews arrive, if you need more GPM on the first floor, you could choose to also advance the large diameter line. Yet another reason you’ll need the additional manpower.

Knowing which structures are occupied vs. vacant is extremely important for departments with short staffing. As initial response is small, you’ll want to know which structures are more likely to be occupied- thus being your primary focus for initial search. Once additional crews arrive, search can be extended to the other structures if not already completed.

As discussed previously, roof ops may not be an option for short staffed departments. In this case, going interior may not be possible. Without the lift of heat and smoke from vertical ventilation interior conditions can become unbearable. You may have to utilize deck guns, flanking the angles with large diameter lines, or an aerial if available to fight the fire from the exterior.

Many have mistaken sound decisions in unsound buildings. All things considered, collapse and unseen fire spread should be the two red flags in the back of your mind on arrival on a Taxpayer fire. These fires aren’t won at 3am; they’re won the previous day during a preplanned walkthrough. Use every available opportunity to become intimately familiar with these buildings, whether it’s an EMS call or just getting out of the house on a nice day. The devil is in the details, and the minutiae matters.


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

Dunn V. Collapse of Burning Buildings: a Guide to Fireground Safety: 2nd Ed. 2nd. Ed. Tulsa, OK: Pennwell; 2010.

Hill HJ. Failure Point: How to Determine Burning Building Stability. PennWell Publishing Company; 2012.


Saltbox Construction

Lex Shady

Building construction styles vary across the country, states, and even in your own city. It’s important to understand your district, so you can understand how a fire may spread in a structure, and what the inherent fire spread/collapse risks of that structure may be.

As I started to study the construction styles in my city, I noticed several unique design styles. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was looking at, so I started to do some research. I assumed that with unique styles comes changes in fire spread and firefighting tactics. One such style of construction in my district is the “saltbox”.

A saltbox house is designed with a Colonial style of architecture originating in New England, first seen around 1650. The rumor is that saltboxes gained popularity during colonial times due to the Queen Ann taxation of houses taller than one story. By having one roof line, with the rear being single-story, they could avoid the tax. In reality, during that time, multiple families would live in the same home. So most likely, the style came from needing more space, not needing to avoid a tax.

Note the central chimney.

Saltboxes are frame houses with two stories in front and one in back, having a continuous pitched roof. The original homes were designed around a central chimney with a family room and kitchen on the first floor and the bedrooms upstairs. When the families expanded and they needed more room, a shed was added to the back of the home and the roof extended. The kitchen was then moved to this room. In the early 17th century original homes began to be constructed in this style. The name comes from wooden boxes used at that time to store salt. The boxes and homes both shared the same gable style roof shape. (Gable roofs are the most common roof types in the midwest- two roof sections sloping in opposite directions, the highest edge meeting to form the roof ridge.) Saltbox gable roofs have asymmetrical sides, one section being tall, the other short.

It’s important to note there will be additional void spaces in these types of structures.

Not every structure that has a rear addition with a pitched roof is considered saltbox. An example would be the images below. The important difference here is that there is no continuous roof line. The soffit will act as a sort of “fire stop” preventing the trench effect spread of fire from the first floor.

Notice the soffit provides a break in the roofline.

So why does knowing this construction style matter? Typically first floor fires spread to the upper floors in various ways such as extending out the windows to the second story windows, traveling up a stairwell, burning through the floor, etc. With saltbox style construction, fire can spread from the first floor to the attic space by following the voids in the roof line all the way to the top. This can happen fairly quickly, without being seen from the outside. Think similar principles to a basement fire traveling up the walls of a balloon frame house.

In a saltbox style home, this vertical fire spread occurs through the trench effect, such as the Kings Cross Fire in London in 1987. Once the fire gets into the roof line, there is nothing to stop it from going to the ridge and spreading across the rest of the roof. As with any peaked roof structure, there is collapse risk from fire exposure due to the structural framing, roof decking, etc. What makes these structures different, is the potential for rapid fire spread to the stories above. When fighting these fires you’ll want to be sure to send a second crew to the upper floors to check for extension.


Chimney- and Trench Effect, MSB [Video file]. (2015, February 16). Retrieved from

Dunn, V. (2010). Collapse of Burning Buildings, 2nd Edition: A Guide to Fireground Safety. PennWell Books.

Framing Styles for Timber Frames and Post & Beam Barns. (2018, September 10). Retrieved from

Gable roof. (2009, November 25). Retrieved from

History of Saltbox Style Homes. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The King’s Cross fire, 1987 ? fires that changed history. (n.d.). Retrieved from

London Fire Journal. (2005, July 13). KINGS CROSS FIRE – 1987. Retrieved from

Saltbox. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Trench effect. (2004, June 27). Retrieved from


Time, reps, and a whole lot of sweat.

Lex Shady

Anyone who knows me well, knows that for me just “doing the job” is not enough. I’d say at bare minimum I want to be competent, but minimum standards are a trip hazard. I want to put in the work to be a “good” fireman one day. Someone that can help pass on everything taught to me, to the next generation. There is only one path to get there. That’s time, reps, and a whole lot of sweat.

There’s obviously only one way to get the time, and that is to put in the years on the job. But what better way to put in the reps and sweat than investing your time in training with humble and hardworking firefighters. Personally, there is absolutely nothing more motivating or clarifying than spending time with other like minded individuals. Having the opportunity to listen to, train with, and learn from some of the most talented firefighters in the industry is an opportunity I’m not going to pass up.

This weekend I was able to fit in a quick trip to New York to the First Due Training Conference. (If you didn’t go, you missed out and should go next year.) It was yet another incredible training experience. The conference offered both lectures, and hands on. After the first day was a Tactics on Tap discussion, which if you don’t know what that is, is a bunch of firemen sitting around telling stories. Most of which are hilarious. For the hands on portion, I took the Truck class, and the group of instructors was one of, if not the best, I have had. Everyone was knowledgeable, and answered every student’s question with tricks they’ve learned from their experiences. They took time to work with each individual student, showing them various techniques, and gave specific suggestions on how to keep improving. They also gave advice on how to implement the training and props at your own department. The class was essentially divided into three parts: rotating skill stations, exploring the city and talking ladder placement, and several evolutions of live fire.

I’ve learned a lot from attending trainings and conferences over the last several years, and some of the best stuff I’ve learned has come from simply listening to people talk. If quality training from high caliber instructors isn’t enough reason for you to get outside of your department, below are a few of the other benefits I have found from them:


    I’ve talked a lot about this before, because I think it’s so important to your career; but find yourself quality mentors. I would without a doubt, not be where I am today without mine. The experience they have is invaluable, and they are the kind of fireman I aspire to be one day.
    A good mentor is willing to give you their honest opinion based on their experiences, and can be a voice of reason when you need it. However, if you’re going to request their time, you need to be willing to consider what they’re saying, even if it’s not something you necessarily wanted to hear. You never know who you may meet at a conference that would be willing to mentor you during your career.


    Now, I don’t mean walking up to every “big name” you see on the or going on a Facebook friend request rampage and asking them to be your friend. I mean making quality connections. Find like minded firefighters from other departments in your area, or even across the country. Firefighters that you would want on your truck with you.
    It will never cease to fascinate me how different firefighting is across the country, yet departments have many of the same personality types or morale issues. I’m a firm believer there is something to be learned from everyone. Take the time to ask people questions, and really listen to their answers. Doing this has made a huge difference in my career.
    I’ve been fortunate enough to make some great connections literally across the country, many of these people I would never had met if I hadn’t attended these types of courses.


    Some of my best friends have come from Twitter and/or various conferences. Find people who are invested in the job, and who are constantly trying to better themselves. Find people who won’t sugar coat the truth for you, and who you can count on to help you keep moving forward when it feels like you’re knee deep in the mud.
    When I’m annoyed that I’m struggling with a certain technique or learning a new skill, one person will say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” …not that it makes me feel better but it is true, and it’s the clarity I need to focus. Essentially, you didn’t know it, you know now, move on.
    And if all I’m doing is venting about a problem they’ll also tell me to “quit complaining and fix the problem, and if you can’t fix the problem, then it’s not your problem so quit complaining.” As you can imagine, both of those statements can be infuriating when you’re in the middle of a rant. It’s basically like saying “shut up and keep working, you’ll get there eventually.” As mad as I get in the moment, that is exactly the kind of person you need, or at least I need.
    I need someone who knows when to let me vent, but also isn’t afraid to call me out on my crap and keep my head straight when I feel frustrated and lose perspective. These are the people that are going to essentially say, “what the *$%#? are you doing?” If they think you’re getting off track of your goals. These are the people you can call or text at 2am when you get back from a fire to hash out how to make the next one go better. And who are as excited to talk about the job as you are.

Shattering comfort zones.

    Traveling to conferences forces you out of your comfort zone. When I first started I was quiet (still am, I prefer to listen), and terrified of looking like an idiot in class. This resulted in not asking many questions, to the point that sometimes I would leave confused, with no one to blame but myself.
    Now I don’t care, in order to be effective I need the answer, and the only way I’ll get it is to ask. No one wants to look incompetent, but I’m no longer afraid to learn. Instead I’m afraid of doing something wrong my entire career.
    Take classes on topics you’re not confident in. Get out of your comfort zone in class, it can be a humbling experience, but it shows you exactly what you need to work on. If you only attend classes on skills you do frequently, say fire attack or EMS, you’ll never get better.

In my opinion, you have no excuse to not want to learn, except laziness. And there are small conferences and trainings popping up across the country making it easier than ever to learn. I’m fortunate my department is supportive of me wanting to travel and learn. I’ve found this is the best way to keep myself focused and pushing forward. If nothing else, I want to listen to firemen tell stories. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

As always, move with a purpose.

Photo cred: Chief Woolery



The Paradox of Choice

Lex Shady

Do you ever struggle with training, or studying about the job? I don’t mean in struggling to find motivation or drive to do it, but rather where to even start? I want to soak everything up I possibly can about the job. There are so many different avenues to the fire service: engine company, truck company, squad, technical rescue, HAZMAT, RIT, even EMS, the list is almost endless. Have a RIT article for me? Send it. Oh there’s a good video showing vertical vent? Ok I’ll watch that too. Fire Engineering sent out another email? Better save that to read later. Someone tweeted tips on things to look for in building construction? Better drive around the city looking for similarities.

Sometimes I find myself jumping from book to book, article to article, tweet to tweet. Trying to soak up everything but not really getting what I want or need. So a few months ago I decided to try and lay out a schedule for myself to help keep me a little more on track. I stick to this schedule religiously on shift days, on my off days I still find myself jumping around on different topics, but it has helped give me some structure. I also have about 6 different fire books that I am currently reading in my free time- which one just depends on my mood that day. I didn’t say I had my studying completely nailed down yet. I’m definitely not saying this idea works for everyone, but it’s been great for me so far.

**Note: These topics are pretty broad for a purpose. They give me guidance on the kind of thing to study that day, but allow me to pick things that interest me. This also forces me to pay attention to things I wouldn’t normally choose to study – aka EMS).


  • Mayday/RIT


  • Truck/Rescue/Search


  • Water (supplies, staffing, pumping, etc.)


  • Historical fires


  • Tactics (Ex. Basement fires, UL studies, etc.)


  • Leadership/Personal Development


  • EMS

Read 1 LODD report a week.

**Another tip: Take notes on everything you read, watch, or study. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referred back to them. Also, if you see something you don’t understand, reach out to someone. As long as you’re studying and trying to get better there are no stupid questions.

Maybe there are different topics you would choose to focus on, or have some suggestions for me? I’d love to hear!