It recent years it seems we hear a lot about firefighters being killed and injured in residential fires where the basement was involved. There are a few reasons for this including changing building construction as in the use of engineered i-joists and the heavy fire loads that we have in basements. In addition, most houses with basements don't just use them for storage anymore. Basements are used as active living spaces increasing activity, heating and electrical demands that were not always present in the past.
One thing that we can do to help prevent some of these issues is to know what we are dealing with. Probably one of the most important tasks a fire officer can do when arriving on the scene of a residential fire is to complete a 360 walk around of that building. This gives us information we cannot obtain by darting for the front door.
By seeing all four sides of the fire building we can see if the seat of the fire is in the basement and may allow us a more direct attack from the same level as the fire reducing the chances of floor failure. We are also able to see hazards that impede our egress if a quick escape is necessary. It gives us an idea of our options for ventilation and fire control.
The pictures show some of the hazards that we can find and keep mind of during our 360. Exterior stair wells are altered and secured causing us difficulty making an egress. This is a perfect time for the first due officer to relay these findings to the next due or the RIT crew. These other units should cut locks, open bulk heads and make sure the egress points of the basement are accessible.
Additionally, we need to know the characteristics of the buildings in our still area. This is a picture of a house that is approximately 50 years old and the stairs to the basement are in the garage. Not knowing this could put our initial attack team at risk by searching the main level while fire is burning under them increasing the chances of a failure. Some of these homes have no outside exit and we must protect the stairs for the basement crew just like we would for a crew that ascend to a floor above us.
Take some time to look around your area and discuss these issues with your crew. Prepare your newer members for that thermal layer as you descend the stairs into a basement. We all know what that first experience is like. Train hard and don't forget to do that 360, it may just save your life.
Train hard and stay safe,