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Managing the exposure: Vehicle fire threatens apartment complex

Proper size-up, resource management and quick knock-down kept the fire under control

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A moving truck caught fire right below a high-rise apartment building in a location that allowed fire to spread to the structure.


There are many fire service acronyms, but one that is essential for firefighters to learn is RECEO-VS, which stands for Rescue, Exposures, Containment, Extinguish, Overhaul - Ventilation and Salvage. This acronym gives firefighters their actions on the fireground in order of strategic importance.

As you can see, the first E in the acronym stands for Exposures, a common feature of many fire calls to which we respond. Depending upon the area we serve, we will likely know very quickly, based on the address given, what types of exposures will be present, whether commercial, residential or industrial.

In the case of a vehicle fire, we usually don’t consider exposures. Unless we receive information that the vehicle is parked in a garage or next to a building, we tend to focus on simply extinguishing that fire, without too much worry about what’s around it.

In our corresponding video, we are witnessing a vehicle fire with a large exposure. This was a moving truck that caught on fire right below a high-rise apartment building. As you will see, the moving truck is parked in a location that allowed fire to spread to the structure.

At this incident, the officer arriving on scene did an excellent job of detailing the exposure concerns to the other incoming units. This fire was quickly extinguished, causing no further problems with the building.

But what if the exposure problem had been missed or was not appropriately considered by the first-arriving officer?

This is where we would have witnessed a small problem becoming a much larger problem. In addition to a vehicle being on fire, there would have been a structure fire that could easily involve people being trapped inside the structure. This structure is a high-rise apartment building that contains a large population of people, leading to the “R” in the acronym – Rescue.

Coupled with the significant problem of people trapped would be the need for additional staffing. At a typical vehicle fire, a standard response would include one or two trucks, but for a structure fire, more units would be needed to handle the growing incident.

It is extremely important for officers to take care of the seemingly small details like exposure concerns in order to avoid the larger problems down the line in the incident. One area that helps with this is the initial radio report and size-up information. The first-arriving officer at this incident did exactly what they should – sized up the incident and gave a detailed report, which also includes what resources he needed to manage the issues he had identified.

Lastly, the extinguishment of the fire was also quick. Water on the fire as quickly as it can be applied largely eliminates the problem. In this situation, the quick extinguishment of the vehicle fire meant quick elimination of the exposure problem. Crews also completed the effort by checking for hot spots and extension, ensuring the situation was under control.

This simple vehicle fire could have been a far larger problem, but thankfully, the exposure was managed.

Exposure training

After watching this video with your company, take the following steps to train for similar incidents:

  • Conduct a roundtable discussion on what could have unfolded had the truck fire continued to burn with exposure occurring in the units above.
  • Practice performing size-ups and initial radio reports that include the exposure concern. This can be done with any building in your response district.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.

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