Tactical Discussion: Apartment Fire w/ Critical Decisions by: Nate DeMarse

We first saw this video on Backstep Firefighter. An excellent video surfaced this week that addresses some very critical decisions that must be made in seconds at this early arriving apartment fire in downtown Mamaroneck, New York.  I want to preface this discussion by saying that the Fire Department in Mamaroneck did an OUTSTANDING job in getting several things accomplished simultaneously with very limited manpower. They were confronted with a very complex situation, including a complex laddering problem that they overcame without hesitation.

It appears that the first due engine has arrived to a heavy fire condition in at least one room on the second floor of a three story apartments over stores "downtown-type" building that is common across the entire North American region. In reality, this fire could have happened in nearly ANY TOWN in North America. So since it COULD HAPPEN in your town, here are a few questions to discuss the incident.

There is a visible victim at the top floor window in obvious distress. As we say at every Brotherhood Instructors, LLC course, I am going to step out of my "FDNY Manpower Fantasy World" and attempt to stir a discussion that applies to the other 95% of the firefighting world.  You are arriving with an "now-standard" engine staffed with THREE (including the boss). If you have a total of four, you are extremely lucky, and feel free to answer accordingly. The next due engine and/or truck is 4-5 minutes out.  How and when are we addressing the following concerns from the video:

1) Do we stretch the line to confine/extinguish the fire first or do we go for the ladder rescue? Why? What are the pros and cons of each?

2) Can you split your company to get both accomplished at once? If so how? What are the implications?

3) What sized portable ladder (if it was available on your engine) would you use to reach the 3rd floor sill?

4) What are other options to the portable ladder in the front?

5) What size attack line are you pulling to attack this second floor fire?

6) What are the forcible entry concerns at this fire? Type of door, locks, etc…?

Please copy and paste the questions into your reply below, and answer using your name & department. Keep in mind that we have a lot of young firefighters on this blog that read our posts  to learn, so if you have something throw it down even if you think it is very basic. To the young guys: DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS!

Now take a look at the photos below (bing.com, birds-eye-view) for some added size-up discussion. Unless you were intimately familiar with this building during inspections, EMS runs, water leaks, etc… this building can cause you some complex problems.

1) The fire is located on the 2nd floor, but the 3rd floor is only about 1/2 or 3/4 the depth of the building. Does this now become a top floor fire? How are you getting to the lower level (2nd floor roof) in the rear? How would you communicate this?

As a Roof Firefighter, in my opinion your game plan has now changed. I would be expecting to go up there and force a skylight, scuttle and/or bulkhead and do a perimeter survey. This won't be the case at this job. This is a perfect scenario to drive the point home of crawling or probing with a tool in front of you in a limited visibility condition. If you do not in this case, you can take a 1 story fall to the rear roof, rendering you injured or worse.

2) Note the potential VES opportunity that may be available on the Exposure 2(B) roof. It appears from the overview photo that the window in the A-B (1-2) corner may lead to the same room that the victim is trapped. There are also similar VES opportunities in the rear (2nd floor roof) if needed.

Feel free to add further questions or stir discussion. Remember, we strictly moderate our blog discussions. Keep it professional and to sign your posts. NO UNSIGNED POSTS or posts that simply bash the department (which would be very hard in this case) will be allowed.  Stay safe!





  • Gadget says:

    A shorter climb to the second floor of the B side exposure would be a possible way to the victim, although this option may not have been visible to the crew at the street level. The point raises another question. If there is a window on the bravo side, why did the victim not make it out that window onto the adjacent roof to escape the light smoke condition that appears to be in the room? Break-in bars?

  • Mike Ross says:

    No-one else has bitten yet so I'll open my big mouth and look stupid as usual :-)

    1) Do we stretch the line to confine/extinguish the fire first or do we go for the ladder rescue? Why? What are the pros and cons of each?

    I think you have to go with the rescue. You have a known victim taking smoke and looking a little jumpy; reassure them and get them down; it's not a particularly complex rescue. On the downside, that risks the fire extending and may condemn victims you *don't* know about in the fire apartment; information from residents on the scene may be a factor there – your priority is the victim in greatest danger. If the victim on the 3rd floor is told to stay put and stay calm, and you go for the knockdown instead, and screw it up, that's not good…

    2) Can you split your company to get both accomplished at once? If so how? What are the implications?

    Yes you can. we don't run in companies, and I'm pretty sure we would have enough members on the scene in short order to accomplish both. But you may compromise other tasks – you may have enough to effect the rescue and stretch a line, but not to establish a water supply, for instance – so be very aware of your water situation, just for one example. There's a rescue to be made so 2 in / 2 out doesn't figure.

    3) What sized portable ladder (if it was available on your engine) would you use to reach the 3rd floor sill?

    A 24 footer should just about reach the sill, and can be raised by one man if necessary. A 28 would be better but you probably don't have one on the engine…

    4) What are other options to the portable ladder in the front?

    Presume the stairs are untenable and there's no fire escape or the victim would already have used them. Photos show possibilities for windows on the 3rd floor B side, accessed from the roof of the B exposure – perhaps they're barred, perhaps the drop is too great and you need to get a 14' ladder up there. Likewise on the C side.

    5) What size attack line are you pulling to attack this second floor fire?

    It looks like a straight room and contents fully involved, a 1 3/4", no arguments. I don't think it needs a 2 1/2", you don't have manpower to operate one anyway, and you lose a lot of maneuverability with that.

    6) What are the forcible entry concerns at this fire? Type of door, locks, etc…?

    At this time of day I wouldn't have too many concerns. Night… roller shutter on store, rear commercial door may well be pretty strong. Residential entry to the apartments could be anything or nothing – a whole range of possibilities. Ditto for individual apartments. I'd always be cognizant of the possibility of such things as illegal subdivision. I alluded to window bars earlier.

    I hope I'm thinking of at least some of the right things?

    Mike Ross, firefighter, Town of Mamaroneck FD.

    (note this fire was in the *village* not the *town*; we responded as FAST but I missed the truck! I have no special knowledge of the building or the fire. And props to VMFD for a great stop!)

  • Chris Sterricker says:

    1) Do we stretch the line to confine/extinguish the fire first or do we go for the ladder rescue? Why? What are the pros and cons of each?
    Given the same scenario in my town I would have an Engine, Medic and Tower responding out of my house immediately if everyone was available. That gives me a lot more options, but in keeping with the spirit of the post I will respond given the same initial 3-man Engine as in the video. If it's me and I'm the Lieutenant I lay-out this game plan to my guys. I'm pulling the line and getting it to the door. Back-step, grab the 24' and go get the guy. Engineer, get me water then help the back-step. Break. You have a known life hazard and while it is my opinion the victim is not in immediate danger, he is nonetheless freaked and taking smoke and probably some heat, based on the push of the smoke. A single firefighter better be able to throw a 24' by themselves and while risky, should be able to climb up and get to the guy while the Engineer gets water and then heels the ladder. Meanwhile, by the LT. stretching the line a couple things are taking place. 1) The line is getting in place and ready to go, 2) while doing that the Lt. should be able to keep an eye on his guys, the fire and smoke conditions above and be planning out the attack. Saves a little time and still hopefully keeps him in a position to be in charge of his guys. Obviously the con side of this that the fire is going unchecked while this is going on. The fire escape use in the video, great job and quick thinking.

    2) Can you split your company to get both accomplished at once? If so how? What are the implications?
    Well, I guess I kind of answered that in the above question. The implications are if something goes wrong it's your butt as the boss and you'll have to endure all the internet firemen second-guessing your decision.

    3) What sized portable ladder (if it was available on your engine) would you use to reach the 3rd floor sill?
    24' is what we carry but a 28' would be ideal. The Tower in my house carries a 2-section 35' which is surprisingly easier to maneuver than the 3-sections, so I'd go with that if the Tower were there. a 24' is going to come up a little short and the climbing angle is going to be very steep, which is going to make getting a scared civilian not used to climbing ladders down to the street that much more difficult. I think the 28' will be short too but you can lessen the angle, or keep the angle and gain the height. Something to think about.

    4) What are other options to the portable ladder in the front?
    This may sound crazy but bare with me. The distance between the victim's window and the roof of the exposure B building looks to be less than 6'. The distance from the victim's window to the platform of the fire escape looks to be about the same. If there were a way to quickly ladder the roof of the exposure B building and use a 14' or 16' roof ladder to bridge the span between to parapet or roof of the exposure B and the platform of the fire escape the victim may be able to crawl out and across. Risky, but a possibility, maybe. Another option would be as Nate pointed out. A VES through the front window on the exposure B roof side and get the guy out that way. Now for something REALLY crazy. Having a guy in the window and barring the immediate or quick arrival of an aerial ladder, pull that Engine as close to that building as possible and place a ladder in the hose-bed and go get him. You've just gained another 8 or so feet.

    5) What size attack line are you pulling to attack this second floor fire?
    1 3/4" smooth bore or combination set to solid stream. This is for the initial attack with the limited manpower. Given the age and construction of the building I would either then place 2 to 3 more 1 3/4's in service (interior stairs, third floor, cock-loft) or two 2 1/2's as back-ups if manpower allows.

    6) What are the forcible entry concerns at this fire? Type of door, locks, etc…?
    Given the type of building there should be fairly light opposition in the FE realm. The outside door is probably a solid wood or wood/window door with a knob-key lock and some sort of electronic buzzing capability or simply the lock. Doors to the individual apartments are probably solid wood or possibly retrofitted modern doors. Either way there is probably little more than a knob-key, dead-bolt and chain on each. Even if the doors are retro-fitted metal doors they more than likely wont be set in metal jambs. And again, even if they are and given the age of the building, you have plaster-on-lath or straight dry-wall on either side of the door. Bust your way through it and open the door.

  • Ryan Berter says:

    Im going to veere away froim answering the questions one at a time and address only one, splitting the crew.

    I know many brothers are not going to like this however in this scenario given limited manpower why not give the fire a good shot from the street and stop its progression.

    Yes you are going to push steam and products of combustion into the building but its already flashed and is most likely extending into the common hallway anyhow.

    I agree that anyone within the fire apartment is already dead. But those above or adjacent to the fire apartment are vialble rescues. Only if, you can slow the progress of the fire or put it out.

    If you know without a doubt that you can quickly and effectively get into the fire apartment and put the fire out then feel free. However that depends on the complexity of the building and the experience level of your company, amongst other things.

    If you choose the fire or the rescue, you leave the other situation to get worse. So I say do both simultaniously.

    This thought might be a little outsize the box and I may take a beatin, so let me have it……..

  • William Knight says:

    I’m going to be the first one, I think, to go to the fire first. I’m also going to stage a second alarm. There are a lot of exposures that need to be evacuated at the least, and checked for extension as well. That’s going to take more units that I’m going to get on the first alarm.

    Given time of day, fire growth, and numerous large exposures of varying occupancy types, I want that fire out before we start having more victims than just those on the 3rd floor.

    My main concern is that freeburning fire on the second floor of a building with a very large potential for spread up and out. The victims on the top floor are getting fresh air from the window, and don’t look like they’re in danger of jumping. If we dilly dally on the rescue, we’re letting fire spread to other rooms and floors where there may be victims we DON’T see hanging out of windows. That manpower problem will get exponentially worse if we see continued fire growth, particularly into exposures.

    We have mostly 3-man engine companies, with 4-man when staffing allows. We have what amounts to 2″ hose with 1″ smoothbores as an option for our crosslays, which is what I’d use for this fire. The hose we use is more maneuverable than 1 3/4″, and with less friction loss. We can put 210 gpm on the fire in short order, assuming no problems with access. I would wager that with the type of occupancy, there will be few access problems getting into the 2nd and 3rd floor apartments above the business. If it IS a room and contents fire, then it’d be out lickety split. If it’s NOT, then I’d rather we start on knocking it down instead of letting it go and complicating other potential rescues down the line.

  • Stone says:

    I will agree with Ryan on splitting the crews (3 man crew with a battalion or command). Many severely minimumed crews (disciplined) do it all the time. I think strong OIC direction is key here with rescue being obvious since it is known. The driver can be aggressive in securing a supply and manning a short line and dashing the fire to keep it in check while crews throw ladders and attempt rescue. Meanwhile if there is a command staff available that could be an extra hand to help. More and more doing more with lless ids the mantra this being the time it pays off! Great job by Mamaroneck FD. Love the site Nate keep it coming! BTW you need to get down here to the panhandle of FLA and put some classes on!

  • fyrfyterX says:

    1. Life Safety…check
    2. Incident Stabilization….check
    3. Property Conservation…..check

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