Hitting the abandoned commercial building

This abandoned commercial building presents several challenges and risks to Detroit firefighters; watch the video and discuss how you would handle a similar fire in your area of response.


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.

This fire involved an unoccupied commercial structure that was no longer open for business. For many departments the arrival of firefighting forces at a fire in an abandoned commercial structure is a low-frequency, high-risk operation for several reasons, including but not limited to the following.

  • Size-up requirements are outside the scope of the typical residential structure fire that can be accomplished with a 360-degree walk-around.
  • Unmanaged properties that are locked, boarded up and have security hardware require significant forcible entry tactics to gain access.
  • Significant building degradation, particularly to the building's interior due to lack of upkeep, leaking water and sewer lines are often present.
  • Interior gas leaks can come from old and unmaintained supply lines and fittings.
  • Multiple unknowns like changes in a building's occupancy, fuel load, and fuel arrangement exist.
  • There is an increased probability that a fire is the result of arson.

Watch the following video that involved such a structure. Use the discussion questions to review this incident with your personnel to increase their knowledge of such incidents and have a conversation around how your department would handle such a fire event.

Discussion questions

  • How would you and your personnel would conduct the initial size-up of this incident?
  • What are the risks to firefighters presented by the fire in this structure?
  • Did you spot any indications that collapse was imminent?
  • What would be your incident action plan for this fire? 
  • How you would implement your plan with the resources that would respond to such a fire from your jurisdiction?
  • What safety precautions and practices should be a part of your plan for this incident?

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