Vehicle fires: How to avoid these close calls

Follow these steps to keep your crew safe at vehicle fires

For most of my career I have focused on the dangers of moving vehicles at the scene of motor vehicle collisions and incidents adjacent to roadways. A bit of research online will give you great tips on fighting vehicle fires.

I often talk about the explosive hazards and the potential unknowns, but rarely have I discussed the potential for the car involved in fire moving from its location. And while these dangers are real, there are ways you can prepare yourself for the next fire.

I have noticed a trend recently when searching for online fire videos. I am finding more videos that show vehicle fires that eventually move from their initial location. 

Under a certain fire load it is quite possible that brakes will fail to a degree that the vehicle will be free to move. Depending on the slope of the road surface, the vehicle can move into the direction of the firefighters and apparatus on scene.

The following video shows a situation in which the vehicle involved in fire not only becomes a hazard for the firefighters, but oncoming traffic as well.

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The best way to protect yourself at these types of incidents is to be proactive. I typically tell firefighters to come prepared to fight and expect the worst; vehicle fires are a bit worse. A few simple moves will protect you and your crew from potential disaster.

The following video presents a similar case in which during operations the vehicle involved loses its breaks and rolls downhill.

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Without Monday-morning quarterbacking, what could have been done differently?

Truck placement, attack angles and chocks will eliminate all chances of moving-vehicle danger. Position the apparatus uphill and upwind. This will put you in a position that you and your crew can attack with more visibility, reduced heat and less chances for advancing through fuel spills. 

In the event the vehicle rolls free, you and your crew are free from the hazard. Some say that it would be difficult to throw a chock under a tire during suppression. I say nothing is too difficult with proper training.

The person choking the tire would move alongside the attack line with the protection of the nozzle. That same person could be your tool man who forces the hood or truck depending on the particular run.

Finally, attack angles are critical in vehicle fires. On your approach to the vehicle, avoid direct lines from tires, bumpers, hatches and strut-related compartments. Consider the slope and grade around the vehicle. Do not put yourself in the following situation where you end up chasing the car, or even worse, getting run over by a burning vehicle.

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These few tips should help you during your next training session and your next vehicle fire. Remember to be proactive, watch your apparatus placement, and train with chocks. This is one hazard we can eliminate as firefighters.

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