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Smart tactics for exterior exposure protection

We must commit resources to protecting areas and buildings near the fire building

Firefighting is not only about stretching the hose into the burning structure. That’s the part that gets the most attention — deservedly so in some respects.

But the part of the job described as protecting property is not exclusive to the building or structure of origin. Protection of property also includes buildings, structures and hazards that are adjacent to the property of origin to prevent fire spread or other hazardous situations like a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion).

We must commit resources to protecting areas and buildings near the fire building. Committing a few resources for exposure protection early will prevent the need for large numbers of resources to be utilized for fire spread to adjacent buildings later.

In addition, we don’t want to adversely impact the residents or occupants of those buildings. By using smart tactics and getting resources deployed early and committed to exposure protection, we can ensure that we contain the fire to the building of origin.

Provide info
First arriving units should provide some information on the need for exposure protection. Included in the size-up should be something like this: “4024 is on the scene of a single family wood frame home with fire and heavy smoke showing. We will be pulling a 2 ½ and we have exposures on Sides B and D.”

This is not the only information that you provide for your size-up, but it is representative of one way to start the thought process of considering exposure protection.

When setting up operations for exposure protection, we need to consider a few things. One, the line we use for exposure protection should always be larger and have the capability to flow more water than the attack line.

The whole idea is that we are planning ahead in the event that our attack fails or that fire is already threatening the exposure.

Two, we need to place the line in a position that is effective. We don’t want to place the line in a place where the stream is not effective and not reaching the fire.

We also do not want to place manned streams in collapse zones or other unsafe areas. Just like the interior teams, the exposure teams should have an egress path out of the area.

Three, we need to ensure that the exposure line has adequate water supply. I have seen exposure lines shut down and/or lose water and the exposure became involved. It can be just as important as the fire building.

Absorbs heat
Put water on the exposure building. Exposure lines are not for attacking the fire building. The water absorbs some of the heat and protects the exposure.

We want the water to cover the entire exposure surface. Start from the top, and let the water run down the wall or surface. It may take multiple lines to accomplish this, but we need to cover the entire wall or roof.

In addition, don’t aim the streams at windows. If we break these windows, not only have we created a water damage problem, but we have provided an avenue for potential fire spread to the interior of that building later on.

When setting up exposure lines, we must consider the safety of our crews. Due to intense heat or wind-driven conditions, we may need to choose unmanned streams.

Ground monitors or aerial devices may be used. With both, we want to use caution so as to not damage — or at least limit the damage — caused by the force of the streams.

For ground monitors, we want to make sure we secure them to a fixed object or something to keep them from flying up or floundering around. Unsecured master streams can kill firefighters and civilians in the area.

This is very basic example of how to protect exposures. Look at the situation you are presented with and act accordingly.
In some instances we will set up exposure protection, but we might not need it at that time. However, preparing for exposure protection ahead of time will provide a better chance of success when the protection is needed.

Follow your department guidelines and policies and train on them. Just don’t forget about those exposures on your next fire. Next month we will discuss interior exposures. I’ll see you next month in From the Fireground.

Jason Hoevelmann is a deputy chief and fire marshal with the Sullivan (Mo.) Fire Protection District and a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley (Mo.) Fire Protection District. His experience spans more than 20 years, with more than 15 years as an instructor. Jason holds an associate’s degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home initiative and a board member for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He is also co-owner of Engine House Training, LLC. He can be reached at