Thursday, November 1, 2012

What the Crews Saw..

...when they arrived on scene:

As you can see, a well established fire in the attached garage of a mini-mansion. The fire had probably extended into the attic prior to FD arrival, a real worker for sure.

I wish I could have been there when the above shot was taken, but I was at a car show across town. I don't know who took this either, but I am guessin' it was a firefighter with a camera phone. I noticed the smoke at some point later as I was getting gas and stopped by on my way back to the Schmoe palace.

This is what I saw when I arrived:

Ladder pipes, monitors and hand lines. Definitely not what anyone likes to see, especially on a single family dwelling. ( no matter how big it is)

I used to work in this district, this neighborhood is composed of large wood-frame houses most in the 5000 sq. ft range. They get even bigger a little farther up the hill. Depending on when they were built, most are sprinkled as this one was.

It still amazes me that we require people to sprinkle the house, but don't require that the garage (statistically the second most common area where residential fires start) or the attic be sprinkled. I digress.

Most of the mini-mansions in this area have lightweight engineered truss roof systems and tile roofs, combined with complex attic spaces. This gives fire plenty of places to hide - you have to get into the attic quickly bcause you don't have a lot of time before it goes bad.

I wasn't there when the decision was made and I don't know what the timeline was but at some point it was determined that interior attack was no longer a reasonably safe option and the attack shifted to defensive. As the roof had collapsed in several places after they went defensive, the concerns were well founded. Still, no one likes defensive fire attack objectives.

As one who takes pictures of fires rather than fighting them. I prefer to be there when the objectives  transition from offensive to defensive. It's a time that make for exciting photography. Obviously I wasn't present when that occurred, so I decided to focus on the people involved in the firefight.

Even though engineers are known as knuckle-dragging knob turners and vine-swinging lever pullers, the reality is that they still enjoy flowing water. Lots of water.

Going defensive means that plans have to change. Sometimes RIC has to move as well.

Bottles still need to be changed. I've often described that 10 second period when your breather is rid of the empty cylinder and the full one not yet installed as the most heavenly time in firefighting. The older I got, the better it felt.

Even though they went defensive, they were still working their asses off. It was over 90, plenty warm to be slaying unruly dragons.

When I was on the job, I preferred face to face communication. That way, I knew we were both picking up what we both were laying down. 

At some point, things usually die down somewhat and close-in operations can resume. I like the photo opportunities that arise from that.

Even though I missed the peak of the fire activity, I am still glad I took the time to shoot this. I wasn't the only one who focused on the people at this fire, Terry, a photographer for the local paper published several photos of this fire. I couldn't help but notice that the majority of his shots focused on the firefighters, not the apparatus or the fire itself.

 Focusing on the firefighters reminded me what the primary requirement is for a successful organization. It's the people.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Great photos, Schmoe. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice pix! It's sad that someone lost their home, but I'm glad the firemen were around to put it out. I think it's likely that these people didn't even know about sprinkler systems and where they should be installed. I certainly know nothing about this. Had they known, the entire living space might have been saved.

  3. Joe - Thanks, glad you like them.

    Mad Jack - I'm sure that most people who live in sprinklered homes do so only because the sprinklers were required by code when the house was built. It was a big fight to get the sprinkler ordinance passed in our city, we had to overcome several council members who were opposed as well as the local Building Industry Association.

    I have seen many, many sprinkler success stories very few failures.

    If I had to guess, I would say that the reason garages and attics aren't required to be sprinkled by code, is a concession that was made when the code was enacted. It saves a few bucks for the builder of the structure. In most cases, sprinklers ordinances are sold as a life saving system thus they are required only in liveable areas. Again, just a guess.

    Thanks for the comments.