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As more buildings become 'vacant', use more caution

Vacant structure places a heavy burden on first-arriving units to make the right choices


Editor's Note: Chief Adam K. Thiel looks at the tough decisions facing the first on scene at a vacant structure fire.

It's probably not a surprise, given the depth and duration of the latest economic recession, that vacant buildings — always a problem for fire departments — are frequently in the news around the United States.

No matter where you live and work, vacant structures are likely becoming an issue as real estate foreclosures continue despite what economists say is a slow recovery.

Now, I'd be lying if I told you I'd never gone inside an obviously vacant building to fight fire. While I tend to believe that should be a very rare occurrence, I don't know if we can absolutely say that fire fighting in vacant structures should never be an option.

Although I'm pretty close to that conclusion, I am aware of situations where otherwise "vacant" buildings could be occupied — presenting the need for attempting rescues, depending on the conditions and viability of those inside.

However, I am absolutely certain that too many of our brother and sister firefighters have been killed and injured in empty (not always the same as vacant) buildings where there were no lives to save or property worth their sacrifice.

There's also no question in my mind that a vacant structure places a heavy burden on first-arriving units to make the right choices about strategy and tactics based on a thorough size-up and carefully — albeit quickly — considered risk-benefit analysis.

Stay safe!

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