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Fire attack: Auto repair shop

Firefighters arrived to find fire blowing out of the roof of this small commercial structure; how would you attack this fire?

By Robert Avsec

Editor's note: This feature is intended to spark the sharing of ideas, information and techniques to make firefighters safer and more effective. The following video and discussion points must not be used to berate, belittle or criticize those firefighters. Rather, in the spirit of near-miss reporting, please use this feature as another teaching tool to help you better do your job. Please leave your comments below and use this material in your own department. I hope you find this Reality Training valuable; stay safe and keep learning.

Commercial building fires pose unique challenges. The fire is typically not being fueled by the structural components like it is in wood-frame construction. This makes it incumbent that fire officers and firefighters quickly ascertain the fuel source so that it can be cooled or removed.

Also, the lightweight building construction components in the roof assembly that allow for large open areas like showrooms, service areas and bulk storage are subject to early failure when impinged upon by the fire.

These open areas, which many times are free of smoke or only have light smoke visible, can lull firefighters into a false sense of security. Firefighters continue to creep farther and farther into the structure in their efforts to put water on the fire — and then the roof falls in.

And, fire suppression operations tend to last longer than those involving residential dwellings. It may be difficult to determine the location of the fire and to gain access to the seat of the fire. Both of these factors can lead to freelancing by suppression personnel if a strong incident command system and tactical leadership are not in place.

After watching this video of an auto repair shop fire, use the discussion questions to have a conversation around how your department would handle such a fire event.

Discussion questions

  • What is your assessment of this scenario and what incident action plan would you develop and implement if you were the incident commander?
  • Is your plan congruent with the fire suppression operations you observe in the video? If not, discuss your rationale for the differences.
  • What are the challenges facing the on-scene personnel as they attempt to access and extinguish the fire? 
  • What tactics would you and would differ from those seen in the video?
  • What are the firefighter safety issues present in the video?
  • What is your department's SOG on the use of SCBA while conducting roof operations?

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Mark A Cummins Mark A Cummins Monday, August 25, 2014 3:05:14 PM I just don't understand why they aren't using CAFS for these types of fires. The smoke is loaded with carcinogens and the amount of water they are wasting is carrying the pollution down the street and into the water shed.
Mike Hughes Mike Hughes Tuesday, August 26, 2014 12:13:30 PM If there are no trapped occupants this should be an aggressive defensive operation. Typically these type of structures have a weak roof and openings in the floor for employees to be under the vehicle, not to mention a wide variety of fuel's. The risk presented to firefighters is very high, for what? A pop up commercial building that can be easily replaced. IC should confirm an all clear, put the sticks up and flow the deck guns.
Marty McKinney Marty McKinney Tuesday, August 26, 2014 12:34:47 PM This roof looks like the roof we have at the shop and would be extremely difficult to extinguish once a fire takes hold. The roof is steel truss with a tounge and groove wood deck and twelve inches of foam insulation under the tar and gravel roofing which sits on top of a 3/8 inch plywood decking. Once the foam starts to burn how can you get water or foam on it, it's built like an Oreo cookie. You cannot get at the middle without first removing one outer layer. All you can do is pour water onto it and wait for it to burn out.
Jonathan Al-Khal Jonathan Al-Khal Tuesday, August 26, 2014 2:54:12 PM You are all idiots.
Nicholas Jones Nicholas Jones Wednesday, August 27, 2014 10:56:35 AM Wow... aerial master stream. I wonder what the roof was designed to do wit water that comes from above.
John Wayne John Wayne Saturday, August 30, 2014 12:53:23 AM It's a tragedy that this happened, and I'm surprised it doesn't happen more. I see so many of these shops with the mechanic working on the traffic side of a car parked halfway up the sidewalk all over the city. I know something information, to know you can click here

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