Protecting Exposures

By Jason Poremba 

Firefighters always talk resources — our job is dependent on them. How can we protect our communities without these key items? Simply put, without water and trained manpower, buildings burn down and people get killed.

With cuts in departments across the country, engine and truck companies are responding with fewer members for a job that gets more complicated daily. Volunteer departments are often left to make do with skeleton crews with members unable to leave jobs in these tough economic conditions. Chief officers in general are being forced to make more and more complicated staffing solutions.

When considering exposures, we need to think manpower and water. Do we have the necessary manpower and the positive water source to protect the unburned? If you understand your community and your department, you can make more educated decisions. Do not be afraid to call for an additional alarm and prioritize the dangers. Life hazards will take priority over property. Your decisions to establish exposure protection will protect firefighters on scene and any civilians in adjacent structures.

This first video highlights one of the most common exposure issues. This is an external detached fire that extends to a structure.  

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These types of fires are often the result of vehicles and garbage bins. The video shows a "roll-off" type dumpster fully involved next to a single family three-story wood frame with vinyl siding. On arrival, our size-up should determine an exposure issue with the "roll-off" and the adjacent wood frame dwelling. Utilize available members to attack the dumpster, protect the exposures, and check for extension and occupants within at a minimum. If you do not have the necessary manpower to fill these tasks, call for additional alarms immediately.

This  next video highlights structure to structure exposure problems. This single family two-story wood frame puts a structure on either side in danger. Heavy fire load, adjacency and wind are putting both exposures at risk.  

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You'll see having watched the video that although the fire has already extended into the dwelling to the right, the chauffeur on the engine makes a great move to limit further extension by hitting the fire with the deck gun. This is a great tip for departments with staffing issues. There is nothing wrong with setting up a deluge gun, master stream, or deck gun to take place of an additional hose line. As with the misc. detached fire scenario we began with, we need to deploy teams to the adjacent structures to check for occupants, and for extension as a result of radiation.

The next video highlights the dangers of auto exposure. This type of exposure problem is very common in high-rise and multi-story buildings. Even though this tends to be more popular in large buildings, this can happen in your standard two-story wood frame dwelling.  

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As shown in the video, fire will self vent out apartment or room windows. Heavy fire will tend to rise and lap out the windows. The immediate floor above will now be exposed to high heat levels against window frames and glass panes. Under continuous heat, glass fails, and drapes or curtains in the immediate area become involved. Shortly after, drapes, curtains or valances drop. If there is no line or manpower in place, the scenario outlined here often leads to the room above becoming involved as well. Be on the look out for enclosed shafts. Fire will often travel through the shaft like a chimney, and potentially extend to the floor above or additional exposures. In the FDNY, this will lend itself to an "urgent" call and most likely an additional alarm.

The final video shows auto-exposure in a single-family wood frame.

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From watching all of these videos, we should be able to see that size-up is crucial in determining a plan. Once we establish that there are exposure issues, we must ensure we have the necessary resources to guarantee our safety and the potential safety of adjacent buildings.

We often focus so greatly on our task to extinguish the fire that we forget to protect related exposures. Know your community, know your department and do not be embarrassed to call for additional help. It is far worse to call a family of someone who has fallen as a result of your decisions. Your decisions to establish exposure protection will protect firefighters on scene and potential civilians in adjacent structures.

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