As more buildings become 'vacant', use more caution

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Adam K. Thiel Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

As more buildings become 'vacant', use more caution

Vacant structure places a heavy burden on first-arriving units to make the right choices

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's Note: Chief Adam K. Thiel looks at the tough decisions facing the first on scene at a vacant structure fire.

It's probably not a surprise, given the depth and duration of the latest economic recession, that vacant buildings — always a problem for fire departments — are frequently in the news around the United States.

No matter where you live and work, vacant structures are likely becoming an issue as real estate foreclosures continue despite what economists say is a slow recovery.

Now, I'd be lying if I told you I'd never gone inside an obviously vacant building to fight fire. While I tend to believe that should be a very rare occurrence, I don't know if we can absolutely say that fire fighting in vacant structures should never be an option.

Although I'm pretty close to that conclusion, I am aware of situations where otherwise "vacant" buildings could be occupied — presenting the need for attempting rescues, depending on the conditions and viability of those inside.

However, I am absolutely certain that too many of our brother and sister firefighters have been killed and injured in empty (not always the same as vacant) buildings where there were no lives to save or property worth their sacrifice.

There's also no question in my mind that a vacant structure places a heavy burden on first-arriving units to make the right choices about strategy and tactics based on a thorough size-up and carefully — albeit quickly — considered risk-benefit analysis.

Stay safe!

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel FireRescue1's editorial advisor is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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