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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Plan and train for unconventional living quarters

With shantytown-type living arrangements across the U.S., fire departments must prepare for the uncommon

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's Note: Chief Adam K. Thiel relates his own experience with uncommon structure uses and advises us on how to prepare for these situations.

I wish I could say that I'm surprised by this story, but I'm not.

In addition to being increasingly concerned about people living in otherwise vacant residential buildings, now we must also worry about the risks of people living in improvised structures, self-storage units, commercial/retail properties, and pretty much anywhere else you can imagine.

My own department recently fought a fire in what was once a large "urban" chicken coop (something we're also seeing more of) that was being illegally used as a dwelling unit for several people. Once you add carpet remnants and cast-off furnishings to any wooden structure of any kind, you can have a substantial fire load and a definite life-safety and exposure problem.

This trend brings to mind the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression, the favelas of Brazil, and the shantytowns we often associate with third-world countries. But the problem exists here and now, throughout the United States.

For fire departments, the solutions will sound familiar: constant area familiarization (know your streets, know your buildings, know your communities); pre-incident planning; training for the uncommon incidents (i.e., practice assembling/advancing attack lines that will reach through, around, and beyond your typical structure); continual size-up (including a 360-degree lap of the building whenever possible); and heavy involvement in fire- and building-code enforcement efforts.

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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Rudy Caparros Sr. Rudy Caparros Sr. Tuesday, December 18, 2012 1:58:55 PM WARNING: FIRST RESPONDERS’ use of THE CHLORINE INSTITUTE “C” KIT may cause the catastrophic failure of a chlorine tank car, instantly creating a toxic gas plume with a distance of not less than seven miles. The first mile will have chlorine concentrations of 1,000 ppm, causing death after one or two breaths with no opportunity for escape. To learn more, see PETITION C KIT, click on “First Responder Warnings.”.

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