Firefighters on roofs: 3 no-excuse rules

No firefighter should ever be on a roof without a partner, without full PPE or without a primary and secondary way off


It really sucks being caught on a roof with no way off and fire racing behind you. We preach it and we teach it: firefighters must always have two ways off a roof. The reasons for this mantra, of course, is so that firefighters will have an alternate way off if they get caught by fire spread.

In our corresponding video, we have such a situation. We can see a lone firefighter on a roof with no way off and the fire spreading towards him.

What dominos are lining up with this situation?

To start, there is a lone firefighter on a roof. We usually send two firefighters to conduct vertical ventilation operations. This is so that there is some accountability and a safety factor for each of the firefighters.

The next domino we see is a firefighter without the proper PPE — this one is not wearing SCBA. Why would a firefighter go to the roof of a burning building without a SCBA?

Remember the recent incident where Capt. Pete Dern of the Fresno City (Calif.) Fire Department fell through the roof of a burning house on March 29? He suffered second- and third-degree burns to about 65 percent of his body.

He has made a remarkable recovery from his ordeal thanks in part to the PPE that he was wearing — SCBA along with his structural firefighting gear. His PPE protected him from the worst environment that he could ever face.

Secondary means
The next domino is the absence of a ladder. The video shows no ground ladder dedicated for the firefighter on the roof. There is a ground ladder being used for another operation by two nearby firefighters, but it has to be used to get the lone firefighter off of the roof.

When a team of firefighters goes to the roof, their ground ladder needs to be dedicated to them and left in place for them. The ground ladder they come up on is their primary way off. A secondary means of egress also needs to be established so that when fire spreads and cuts off their primary escape, they can retreat to the secondary means.

The next domino is with the fire spread. Whenever we go the roof of a burning building, we need to keep a watchful eye on the fire.

Fire spread can be rapid and, if not watched, it will catch us off guard. That's another reason for having at least two people on the roof — one to keep an eye on things and the other to perform the work.

Hopefully this video will be a wakeup call and remind all who go to the roof to be prepared for the worst by wearing their PPE, having two ways off and keeping an eye on the fire.

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