3 window hazards that impair fireground operation and safety

Be sure to completely remove air conditioners, bars and gates, and glass and sashes to ensure fast egress from windows

Despite your training, things have gone bad. This time it isn't your fault that you are in trouble. What you didn't realize was that while you were trying to extinguish the fire, the windows were taken improperly. 

You called for the vent and assumed it was done right. You were also under the impression that additional openings were made in the event that emergency egress was needed. Here you are now looking to get out and your egress path is not completely cleared. 

It doesn't sound like a big deal, but when things go bad they typically go bad fast. 

History and audio from FDNY's Black Sunday teaches us how fast things can turn bad. When you listen to the audio you quickly realize that there isn't time to clear windows, window bars or other obstructions.

This reinforces the fact that when we do our size-up we need to check all potential egress points for hazards. Once any hazards are identified we need to remove them.

As with any operation, it must be clearly communicated and coordinated with the incident command. Taking windows and doors could have adverse effects on the fire conditions inside. 

Gated community
Window gates and bars are very common hazards for firefighters. The location and style of security gates and bars are totally unpredictable.

You can find them on high-end residential homes and low-income housing. You can find both styles within the same building and in some cases within the same unit. You can also find them on some exposures and others are completely free of them. 

The only way to truly quantify the amount and locations of these is to do a full 360-degree size-up.

The other thing to consider is that we cannot assume the window gates are operating. You will often find operable window gates welded or locked closed. It is safer to assume that you will need to remove all bars and gates by force. 

The following video shows a firefighter going to work on the exterior of a building. The firefighter is correctly removing window bars while operations continue on the interior. In the event of an emergency, firefighters on the interior can potentially exit to safety.  

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Here's an excellent training video on removing window gates and bars

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When conducting your size-up for other obstructions, be on the look out for the not-so-obvious hazards. This could include the following:


  • window air-conditioning units or other mechanical equipment
  • baby gates
  • furniture and cabinetry
  • boarded up windows and doors
  • windows and doors open from the exterior but sealed on the interior

Window accessories
Items that are attached to the windows or that are partially inserted into the window or door openings can become hazards during operations. They not only present a danger to firefighters on the interior but on the exterior as well. 

Items like air-conditioning units can block access and become hazards to those below if they fall out of the openings. In this video, a FDNY firefighter is trapped in a room behind an air conditioning unit and needs to get out fast.

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The next hazard is one we often create ourselves. Videos will often reveal that firefighters are not clearing windows properly. It is unclear if this is a result of poor training or laziness. 

Making doors
A window that is not cleared properly increases your risk for firefighter injury, delayed rescues, and delayed emergency egress. A common phrase used when talking about clearing windows is, "Turn the window into a door."

It really is just that simple. We cannot leave huge sections of broken glass still attached to the window frame.

We also need to make sure the entire window is cleared of all mullions, muntins and sash pieces. A double-hung window that is three feet wide by five feet tall is only three feet wide by two and a half feet tall if the sash isn't removed. Thirty inches in height makes for a big difference if you are trying to remove a civilian or if you are trying to make an emergency exit. 

The following video shows a fire late into the operations. Imagine trying to operate in and around these window units. It becomes very obvious how hard it would be to get through these window units.

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The key is size-up. The better we understand what we are getting into, the better the odds are we will make it out alive. Knowing and being aware of these potential hazards will protect you and your crew while operating and in the case of an emergency.

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