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How to disable a garage-fire hazard

Garage doors can strike or entrap firefighters battling garage fires; here’s how to neutralize those threats


On Sept. 19, a firefighter was injured when a garage door came crashing down on top of them while doing some overhaul work inside the garage. As a result, the firefighter suffered some neck and back injuries.

The garage door was open and resting in the cradle position above the firefighters when the incident occurred.

With the relatively high number of garage fires departments respond to, the possibility of this incident repeating itself is very high.

Do we think of the garage door when we are working inside a garage? Probably not. For the most part, we tend to forget about the garage door once it has been opened.

It doesn’t matter whether firefighters opened a garage door when they arrived on scene or if they found it open upon arrival. It is important to take steps to secure it so that it does not become a falling hazard or an entrapment hazard.

The corresponding video shows an example of an entrapment hazard taking place when a garage door closed automatically. This is not what firefighters want to have happen.

So, what can we do to render the garage door ineffective?

Disabling the hazard

For the garage door that is opened and resting in the cradle position, disconnect it from the automatic door opener if there is one present. This will require pulling the red or white chord to release the carriage from the door.

If the door opener were to activate on its own for some reason, the carriage will move but will not take the garage door with it.

If there is no automatic door opener or it has been disconnected, prop the door open with either a pike pole or with a pair of vice grips. The pike pole will serve a vertical support, holding the door open by using the ground as an anchor.

To use a pair of vice grips, clamp the tool on the track of the door right where the door is resting. This will prevent the door from closing on its own by blocking its path of travel.

When doing overhaul work in the garage, it may be best to pull the garage door down and remove it all together so that it cannot fall.

This may seem excessive in nature, but the lightweight materials holding the door to the ceiling often fail. Removing the door removes the potential fall hazard.

The next time you are in a garage for a fire or for overhaul work, remember to secure the garage door.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.