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Why protecting interior exposure is vital for firefighter safety

It’s not the most glamorous job on the fireground, but done right it will keep escape routes open

Last month we discussed some challenges and considerations for protecting exposures on the exterior of the fire building. This month we are going inside to discuss interior exposures.

Remember, not all interior-exposure protection takes place in the same building. Auto-exposure may create the need for interior exposure protection as well.

Interior-exposure protection typically happens in the fire building in adjacent rooms and floors. It could be corridors and stairwells or other means of egress. Know where these areas are and how to deploy adequate resources to be successful.

This type of task is not always a popular assignment for firefighters, but a very important one. It could be the difference in losing a larger portion of the building, the entire building or the means of egress for firefighters making an attack or a search.

Weapon of choice
Not choosing the right weapon is one of the biggest mistakes when protecting interior or exterior exposures. We too often take the wrong size line.

Protecting these exposures is needed in the event that the fire goes where we don’t want it to go. This means we must anticipate events going down hill and be prepared to do something about it.

Take a bigger line than what is being used for the attack. Basically, use no less than a 2 ½-inch hose line.

Protecting interior exposures is very common in apartment buildings, strip malls or any building with multiple occupancies. Ideally, try to get a line from an apparatus that is not involved with the attack line and has its own water supply.

Keep escape routes in mind
When advancing the line to the adjoining space, be aware of escape routes and monitor those throughout the duration of the operations.

The last place we want a fire going is over our heads. In most cases, these fires spread to adjoining spaces via attics, cocklofts and other overhead concealed spaces. Open those spaces to ensure any fire penetration can be pushed back.

Too often crews get into the adjacent space and just stand and wait. Instead, pull ceiling and continually monitor conditions. Check for multiple ceilings and obstructions that may inhibit our ability to protect the space.

A thermal imaging camera is useful as it can help monitor fire and heat penetrating the adjoining spaces. It should not be the only monitoring method, use hand lights and visually inspect the space.

For alternate floors, we need to be concerned about operating above the fire floor. This is one of the most dangerous places to be second only to the fire area.

This operation may be done from a safe place, like a stairwell. This needs to be a command decision and benefit versus reward must be carefully considered.

Damage control
For exterior exposures, we wash the protected exposure; this is not routine for interior exposures. We don’t want water damage on the protected interior spaces.

If the area has smoke and heat, pull the ceiling and use a TIC to identify heat and flame. If heat and smoke have penetrated that space, it’s a good bet that if the fire is not stopped by suppression crews, it will be you who stops it from your position.

In some structures, even large single-family homes, protecting stairwells is paramount. Crews searching for fire or victims may ascend or descend stairs, putting them at great risk.

During fires in these types of buildings, ladders must be thrown to upper floor windows and bulkheads and basement doors must be made accessible. But just as important, a hose team needs to be on these stairwells to protect those crews operating and counting on that means of egress. The crew protecting the stairs should do nothing else while the other crews are operating above them.

It is critical to check the back side of the stairs to ensure that the fire isn’t attacking from that side. Be alert against getting tunnel vision on the front side of the stairs and being complacent. The primary mission is to make sure the crews working on the upper floors can make it back down.

Protecting stairs for basement fires is a little different. The protection team needs get down the stairs just like the attack and search crews. The best tactic is to get all the way down and off to the side if possible without blocking the means of egress for exiting crews. Again, try to investigate the rear side of the stairs to catch any hidden fire attacking.

As with any other operation, keep a close watch on the egress route. Watch your air supply, you may need to rotate out even though your not on the attack line or search team.

Don’t downplay your job. Protecting interior exposures is not only about adjoining property, but about protecting means of egress for firefighters and occupants.

Keep training and thanks for reading. I’ll see you next month 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