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The Domino Effect
by Mark van der Feyst

4 steps to safer roof operations

Roof operations are dangerous, but these steps can help reduce that risk

By Mark van der Feyst

At any structure fire it may be necessary to go to the roof to conduct certain roof operations in order to control and suppress the fire. Roof operations primarily involve creating ventilation openings for the quick and direct removal of hot gases, smoke and other byproducts of combustion.

These types of operations will be assigned to a truck company, or in the case of departments that do not have dedicated truck companies, an assigned crew of no less than two firefighters.

Working on a roof of a building that is on fire or has fire contained within it is a dangerous work environment. There is an element of risk being taken by incident command to hopefully control the fire in an effective manner. There needs to be some considerations taken into account before committing personnel to this task.

Experienced crew
The one consideration is the experience level of the firefighters being assigned to the roof. Hopefully they will be experienced enough to be able to recognize the signs of impending collapse — which may be a spongy feeling, bubbling tar, certain sounds and the presence of fire extending through the roof. The newest members of the fire department should not be the ones assigned to go the roof.

Initial size up
The next consideration is to ensure that the roof is safe to be on. This will involve sizing up the conditions to ascertain how developed the fire is and where it is. If the roof is not safe to be on, then do not go. If it is safe to be on, then roof operations can be an option.

Department SOPs or SOGs will also help in this area of decision making. Some will allow the incident commander to determine whether it is safe and worth taking the risk to go to the roof while other department SOPs and SOGs will prohibit any roof operations. This is a growing trend in many fire departments, which take into account modern building construction methods and the decreased time it takes for a roof to collapse under fire.

2 ways off
The crew must have two ways off of the roof once access has been gained. The second way off is a safety measure to protect the firefighters. This is sometimes overlooked as in the case of the video below. There is only one ladder shown in the video from the record's vantage point, and as the conditions change for the worse, you will see how having two ways off is a must.

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Constant size up
Once on the roof make sure to check it continually to ensure that it is still safe to be up there. The next video shows how quickly a roof member can fail causing further potential catastrophe. This video is not meant to depict the department's actions in a negative light, but rather highlight how quickly and unsuspecting a roof can fail.

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It does not take long to become handicapped on the fire ground when the dominos are lining up. In the case of roof operations, careful consideration must be taken to ensure that it is safe to be up there.

About the author

Mark van der Feyst is a 13-year veteran of the fire service. He currently works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He also a Local Level Suppression Instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, and an Instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. You can contact Mark with feedback at Mark.vanderfeyst@firerescue1.com.



Comments
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Raymond Bassford Raymond Bassford Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:38:14 AM The first roof job not one of the men on the roof was looking for changes. in the fire like smoke color pressure flame spread, on a roof you have to be always looking and a second means of egress is a must.
Raymond Bassford Raymond Bassford Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:41:40 AM On the second roof job the first man on the roof if you observed was using a home depot chain saw proper tools for the job.
Duane Clause Duane Clause Friday, February 22, 2013 6:55:36 PM First job was lucky that there was not a double LODD.
Randall Holding Randall Holding Saturday, February 23, 2013 9:14:22 AM I noticed in the second video nobody holding the ladder and I didn't see a hose deployed until the very last. One thing that was stressed in both fire 1 and 2 that if you are using a ladder always have someone holding it.
Jason Plesetz Jason Plesetz Saturday, February 23, 2013 12:10:24 PM In the amount of time it takes for these guys to make a hole in the roof. They could've had the fire already out. That's just my opinion.
Jason Plesetz Jason Plesetz Saturday, February 23, 2013 12:12:05 PM Do you need to do this if there's a chimney?
Mike Hughes Mike Hughes Sunday, February 24, 2013 2:07:03 PM Jason, stay in school. Ventilation is vital, gear up and mask up before your on the roof. The roof is not the place to observe, you plan ventilation, get up there and do it and get off the roof!
Gregory Allen Slade Gregory Allen Slade Sunday, February 24, 2013 2:11:31 PM in the second video the firemen on the roof shouldn`t been up there his self , as long I been in the fire service rule of thumb you always have a partner.
Teresa Cramer Teresa Cramer Monday, February 25, 2013 6:15:21 AM Velosity, Volume, Density and Color....Brown smoke coming off the Delta side was brown, they should have had a ladder on the roof and should have been looking out for the 5 second changes. Smoke Reading was the best class EVER!
Raymond Bassford Raymond Bassford Monday, February 25, 2013 6:36:38 AM I understand what your saying but if you look at the time it took and the hole was not done and if you watched, he was going over the same cut over and over to get throu the layers of shingles with the proper saw it woukd have been done
Raymond Bassford Raymond Bassford Monday, February 25, 2013 6:50:04 AM Once again i understand BUT you have to watch and take note of your surroundings as you work, it is your life did you look at the pictures of what was going on was any one watching they were involved in doing what they were sent to do BUT some one has to watch as the scene is evolving not only on the roof but on the ground a well SAFETY OFFICER

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