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Fire building exposures: how and why to protect them

Hitting the exposures first can sometimes keep a large fire from quickly becoming a massive fire


In the tactical world of firefighting, there are several acronyms to help firefighters remember many firefighting rules and tools. One very well known acronym is RECEO VS, which stands for Rescue, Exposure, Confinement, Extinguish, Overhaul, Ventilation and Salvage.

This is to help firefighters and officers with their decision-making skills when they arrive on scene of a structural fire to effectively mitigate the situation quickly.

The second letter in the RECEO VS acronym, exposure, is often overlooked. Many think about the rescue and extinguishment aspect most upon arrival. This can come at the expense of sizing up exposures.

Yet one of the fireground priorities is to conserve property, and exposure protection fits that bill.

The video below shows an example of where exposure protection will take priority over fire extinguishment. A part of the first-due officer’s size up is to determine what stage of development the fire is in.

Is it fully developed or still growing, at the flashover phase or incipient phase? This will help firefighters determine whether or not exposure protection is warranted at the before extinguishing efforts on the main fire building or if it can wait until later in the fire fight.

Exposure options

What can happen when firefighters overlook the exposure portion of the fireground priorities?

The answer is quite simple — they inherit a much bigger problem. The small dominoes lining up with a lack of exposure protection become much bigger dominoes very quickly as surrounding properties ignite and start to contribute to rapid fire spread.

When fire departments arrive on scene and find themselves faced with a need for exposure protection, they have a few options that they can draw upon. Different tactics can be used to deploy water quickly to prevent rapid fire spread from property to property.

One such tactic is to use the deck gun mounted on top of the engine. This tactic will allow an engine to dump all of it water at once on the fire to help stem its growth.

It also allows for some time to get water supply established to carry on with exposure protection and fire extinguishment.

Another option is to pull of large hose lines right from the start and apply water on the exposures. These large hand lines should be a minimum of 2½-inch and can include both a nozzle or a ground master stream device.

This will apply large amounts of water needed to protect the exposure while at the same time, not draining the onboard water too fast.

Establishing water supply will be a priority with exposure protection. That’s because a large volume of water will be needed to prevent rapid fire spread from one property to another.

This will take some coordination from the commanding officer and with the other incoming units so as to carryout this tactical decision.

Getting a handle on RECEO VS’s first ‘e’ makes accomplishing the rest of the letters a lot easier.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.