Over-Aggressive Attacks on Vehicle Fires

Related Blog Post on The Kitchen Table: Bus Fire - Over Aggressive Attacks On Vehicle Fires

When it comes to smaller-scaled fires, many of us are not taking them seriously enough. All too many fire departments appear to be operating with more casual procedures when it comes to those "routine fires." The best example of this reveals itself in videos taken during vehicle fires. Whether it be due to attitudes such as "it's just a car fire" or "my officer doesn't pack up" isn't clear. But the problem is there, and firefighters are getting hurt as a result of aggressive attacks on car fires without full protection and with a sense of complacency.

Watch this following video carefully as one of the firefighters is struck with a bumper that explodes:


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The firefighter appears to be trying to open the hood of the car to finish off the remaining fire in the engine compartment. It was reported that the firefighter struck received two broken legs, but has since recovered. This clip and the ones that follow highlight the dangers when attacking a vehicle fire. Car fires are typically either very minor or a total loss.

There is absolutely no reason to put firefighters at risk of injury for an unoccupied vehicle. A fire department has little chance of saving a vehicle unless it catches the fire during the very early stages. For this reason, we must proceed with caution and be aware of inhalation and explosive hazards. We should also take exposures into consideration. Do your 360 size-up and determine the potential for exposure problems. Maintain scene control by keeping civilians clear away from vehicle. If vehicle is near a structure or within a structure take the necessary means to increase your man power to protect the related exposures.

Approach vehicles carefully from angles, and avoid direct lines from tires, bumpers, and hatchbacks containing struts. These items when in contact with continuous heat have a history of failing. The exposure to heat will typically end up with some form of explosion that sends out a projectile towards those making the attack. We want to make the attack with an 1 ½" line and consider a back-up line as well. Bring the appropriate tools to the job. Have a minimum of a Halligan and an axe for potential forcible entry.

Advance your line upwind and uphill to help keep the manpower away from the inhalation and spill hazards. If attacking with foam, lay your base of foam under the vehicle to avoid any additional explosions from leaking fuels. Once the base is down, lob the water into the car from a safe distance. With or without foam, you should be able to knock down 80 percent or more of the fire from a completely safe distance.

Once the majority of the fire is knocked down the firefighters can make their move toward the vehicle. If there is still some fire in the engine compartment you can utilize the halligan to make a purchase on the edge of the hood and fender. Once the end is inserted into the seam you can peal back enough to get the nozzle stream into the engine compartment. This technique is not only easy, it keeps the firefighters away from the bumper. If there is some fire in the rear trunk utilize the flat head axe and the halogen. Attacking the lock will usually do the trick. Open slowly and make the final attack. Be sure if you open any trunks or hoods you safely secure them in the upwards position. |

We must also be proactive on arrival. Look for key signs in car fires that can keep your crew safe: fire location, type of vehicle, and progression of fire. Assume every vehicle contains a BBQ tank and fertilizer. Quickly locate the fuel tank, and be on the look-out for other dangers such as two piece rims, airbags, hybrid, hydro, and magnesium blocks.

This next video highlights the dangers of alternative materials in vehicle construction:

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As can see, the firefighter is making an approach on what seemed to be a "routine" fire and is surprised by an explosion as a result of water coming in contact with a magnesium block.

Next, check out this clip of a car fire, which has two key immediate issues — too many firefighters and too few air packs:

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Things to consider when attacking a fire include:

Apparatus positioning
Wind, leading fluids, exposure issues — how should we position our equipment and make the attack?

Life hazard
Occupants or no occupants — how aggressive do we really need to be?

Type of car
Airbags, struts, bumpers, tires, hatchbacks, magnesium blocks, two piece rims, green vehicles

The unknown
Fertilizer, propane tanks, gas containers, weapons, etc.

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