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4 steps to safer roof operations

Roof operations are dangerous, but these steps can help reduce that risk

At any structure fire it may be necessary to go to the roof to conduct certain roof operations in order to control and suppress the fire. Roof operations primarily involve creating ventilation openings for the quick and direct removal of hot gases, smoke and other byproducts of combustion.

These types of operations will be assigned to a truck company, or in the case of departments that do not have dedicated truck companies, an assigned crew of no less than two firefighters.

Working on a roof of a building that is on fire or has fire contained within it is a dangerous work environment. There is an element of risk being taken by incident command to hopefully control the fire in an effective manner. There needs to be some considerations taken into account before committing personnel to this task.

Experienced crew
The one consideration is the experience level of the firefighters being assigned to the roof. Hopefully they will be experienced enough to be able to recognize the signs of impending collapse — which may be a spongy feeling, bubbling tar, certain sounds and the presence of fire extending through the roof. The newest members of the fire department should not be the ones assigned to go the roof.

Initial size up
The next consideration is to ensure that the roof is safe to be on. This will involve sizing up the conditions to ascertain how developed the fire is and where it is. If the roof is not safe to be on, then do not go. If it is safe to be on, then roof operations can be an option.

Department SOPs or SOGs will also help in this area of decision making. Some will allow the incident commander to determine whether it is safe and worth taking the risk to go to the roof while other department SOPs and SOGs will prohibit any roof operations. This is a growing trend in many fire departments, which take into account modern building construction methods and the decreased time it takes for a roof to collapse under fire.

2 ways off
The crew must have two ways off of the roof once access has been gained. The second way off is a safety measure to protect the firefighters. This is sometimes overlooked as in the case of the video below. There is only one ladder shown in the video from the record's vantage point, and as the conditions change for the worse, you will see how having two ways off is a must.

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Constant size up
Once on the roof make sure to check it continually to ensure that it is still safe to be up there. The next video shows how quickly a roof member can fail causing further potential catastrophe. This video is not meant to depict the department's actions in a negative light, but rather highlight how quickly and unsuspecting a roof can fail.

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It does not take long to become handicapped on the fire ground when the dominos are lining up. In the case of roof operations, careful consideration must be taken to ensure that it is safe to be up there.

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