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Salvage operations: Winning over the public

It is the most inglorious of tasks, considering it early can save a significant amount of work for everyone

Over the previous seven articles, we have been applying the acronym REC-REVOS to assist fireground commanders with mental prompts that will assist with ensuring the critical steps in managing an effective fire management process. Now we come to the final letter in the acronym — S for Salvage.

Salvage, like overhaul, is one of those operations that is applicable to almost every fireground — but it is treated like one could get leprosy from performing the task.

Granted, salvage is the most inglorious of all the tactics we’ve covered in this series. But when considered early on in the evolution of the scenario, it can save a significant amount of work for all involved — homeowners, disaster restoration experts and, yes, even firefighters.

Before I take a moment to prove my point, let’s discuss salvage and ensure we are both on the same page when comparing definitions. According to the Encarta World English Dictionary, salvage is defined as follows:

1.Save something for further use: to save used, damaged, or rejected goods for recycling or further use

2. Rescue something from bad situation: to save something of worth or merit from a situation or event that is otherwise a failure

3. Save something from destruction: to save a ship, cargo, crew, or other property or goods from destruction or loss

When considering the definition of salvage, the second definition best applies to us. In the process of confining, extinguishing and overhauling the fire to ensure the fire is out, we, as firefighters, are infamous for causing significant amounts of damage.

We apply volumes of water necessary to extinguish the fire. We force entry into a structure to get that water on the fire. We break windows and remove large sections of the roof to ventilate the products of fire out of a structure.

But look back on your career and remember those fires where we had the opportunity to complete the fireground tactics necessary to extinguish and overhaul the fire, but then inflicted significant amounts of damage to a structure that was unnecessary.

How many times do you see windows broken out of a home, because that’s “just what truckies do?” How often do we pull complete ceilings down, when only inspection holes are needed? How often do we pour significant volumes of water into a structure, when a more intelligent, controlled application of the water would have accomplished the same end?

Throughout my 25 years of experience in the fire service I can say that I am responsible for some of that, including allowing that to occur around me without intervening when I should have.

Common sense
Salvage is not just the placement of covers or the removal of water and smoke, but the use of common sense throughout the operation.

The best time to consider the application of salvage to an incident is during every tactical step. When applying water to a structure, consider at what point the volume of water you are applying is becoming excessive.

If the fire is out, and you are overhauling, do you really need to leave the nozzle open? When you are overhauling the seat of the fire, is it necessary to pull all the kitchen cabinets down, or just those in the involved areas?

When evacuating smoke and heat from a structure, how much damage is necessary and how quickly must it be accomplished? A vertical ventilation hole for a small kitchen fire could be overkill. Removing half a dozen windows for a food fire is another example of overkill.

A good mental checkpoint to consider in the evolution of the timeline for inserting salvage into your operations would be this: Is this fire at the point where I can start to consider salvage interventions to decrease the overall costs the homeowner/business owner will have to absorb by placing salvage tools to use?

Have I anticipated how to assist with minimizing the water damage I am causing during my extinguishment? Is the amount of damage I am causing to force entry worth the tactical need for the process?

Remove irreplaceables
In addition, have I looked for that pristine opportunity to start removing priceless personal effects such as pets, pictures, computers, videos, etc. that cannot be replaced if they are damaged? Have I isolated and removed those things homeowners will require on a short-term basis: medications, cell phones, etc.?

It is the ability to think like our customers and try to anticipate what things they would consider are priceless. If you are not sure, ask them! While this is just another fire to us, it is one of the most significant events in their lives. Save those things they can’t replace!

Finally, we have the opportunity to minimize further damage to the structure and protect those things left on scene. We need to ensure that any damage we have caused to the exterior of the structure is covered — windows, doors, roofs.

We want to ensure that no one will enter the structure to damage evidence or take from a family that has suffered enough.

We also need to consider leaving the structure in a safe manner for fire service and insurance investigators, as well as homeowners who will want to start removing other items when cleared to do so.

These actions can be completed by our crews or by bringing in disaster restoration experts, depending on what your departmental policies dictate. A significant item to consider: Ask your home/ business owner whom their insurance company is and contact them to see if they have a contact with a restoration company already. This could save the occupants a significant amount of money.

Reputation builder
In closing, I cannot stress strongly enough that we have easily within our grasp the capability of maximizing our reputation among our customers.

They will remember this day for the remainder of their lives. Will you have them remember the day that thousands of dollars of unnecessary damage was inflicted on their home without cause?

Or would you rather have a constituent who remembers a fire department that removed significant personal items, only damaged those items necessary, cleaned up its mess, closed up their house to cover the damage they had to perform and consistently worked with the family to address those items they felt were important, regardless of how much work it caused the on-scene crews?

This is the time that a customer will always remember how they were treated — good or bad! Treat their houses as if it was yours, and you will have a member of your district who will support you when you go to them to ask for their help on Election Day!

Michael Lee teaches firefighters the ‘Street Smarts’ they need to survive in some of the most dangerous situations they encounter: ice rescues, basement fires, and structural collapses. Read Lee’s advice in his FireRescue1 exclusive column.
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