Fire attack: Sizing up an abandoned factory

Abandoned industrial sites pose numerous threats to responding fire units; watch this video and discuss below how to mitigate those risks

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.

For many departments fighting fire in an abandoned commercial structure is a low-frequency, high-risk operation for several reasons including unmanaged properties that are fenced in and locked that require forcible entry to gain access, significant building degradation, particularly to window and door openings that expose the building's interior to the elements, and the increased probability that a fire is arson.

There are also size-up requirements that are outside the scope of the typical residential structure fire that can be accomplished with a 360-degree walk-around. And you can find multiple unknowns such as changes in a building's occupancy, fuel load and fuel arrangement.

Discussion questions

  • How would you conduct the initial size-up of this incident?
  • What are the risks to firefighters at this structure?
  • What would be your incident action plan for this fire? 
  • What signs of arson should you be looking for?
  • What are the key behaviors for fire scene management and evidence preservation?

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