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?

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?

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