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Engine Company Search: Town House

Engine Company Search: Town House

Life Safety is the fire services number one priority, typically accomplished by searching for victims of fire inside fire buildings. This is a high risk, high man power, and high intensity tactic that must be planned and coordinated. However, fire departments all over the country often are faced with the choice of either searching or fire suppression due to the lack of the aforementioned man power. Even in departments where man power is not an issue, things happen, units get delayed and the first arriving engine is again faced with should they put the fire out or search for victims. This is a fools choice as both need to be accomplished in order to be successful. The best thing an engine company can do to save lives is to stretch a line and extinguish the fire, however this alone does not locate and remove victims. The following is a plan to accomplish BOTH of these important tasks with limited man power, and providing relative safety to the fire attack crews in a common residential structure the “Town House”. This is NOT an ideal situation, as separate crews (one fire attack, one search and rescue) will always be faster, and more efficient. This is for those departments, or circumstances an engine company finds itself operating without support apparatus and needs to accomplish fire suppression and search.

 

The “Town House” has become one of the most popular residential occupancy types for downsizers, and first-time home buyers. Also referred to as a “Row House”, or “Vertical Rancher”, they also offer a variety of different floor plans that are so vast an entire book could be dedicated to just this one occupancy type. They come in 2, 3, and even 4 story versions that can make it difficult for hose line operations on the interior and slow search operations. Additionally, they are usually in a row which can present challenges with 360-degree size ups, and possible victims in the exposure occupancies. This occupancy type also presents chances for exterior victims on balconies that must be prioritized based on fire conditions and victim location. STAIRS are even more critical in this occupancy as they are the primary route of travel for occupants, but also for firefighters operating on the interior. Stairs are also the primary pathway for heat and smoke that can incapacitate occupants on the top floor with a fire on the first floor. Stairs are also the biggest hindrance of rapidly getting a line to the seat of the fire, especially in a low staffing situation. Front loading hose, and coupling control are vital to moving hose lines up-stairs, also once the driver has established a water supply they can assist pushing hose into the entry point. Do not forget alternative methods of stretching lines interior such as via a ground ladder, and exterior rope stretches. Even if you start exterior with a transitional attack moving the line interior must take place to search for victims and get to the seat of the fire for final extinguishment.

 

*360 degree size ups can be difficult due to the homes being in a row, they are however still vital in order to assess fire conditions, potential victim locations, and hazards to firefighters. End of the row homes can be accessed relatively easy, while middle of the row homes can either be accessed via an exposure occupancy. If possible assigning another unit to the rear can allow them to complete the 360 for the first in officer, however this is not always possible.

Town House: Interior Attack
While responding the first in officer should relay the water supply plan to the other responding companies.
Upon arrival the officer gives an initial on scene size up.
The nozzle firefighter deploys attack hand line.
The officer performs a 360-degree size up. This is vital to ensure the location of the fire, assess flashover potential, locate the best entry point, locate possible exit points, assess any hazards present, and locate victims that may have self-evacuated to the other sides of the building.
The nozzle firefighter, and officer then advance a charged hand-line to the seat of the fire.
Once water is being flowed on the fire the officer then begins to search off of the hose line from the fire room back, starting with the rooms directly adjacent to the fire room, then the next most impacted areas usually the egress points (stairs) and the floors above. The Nozzle firefighter maintains their position in the fire room protecting the searching officer.
If a victim is located the officer makes contact with the nozzle firefighter, if fire is still active the officer attempts removal, or isolation. If fire not active nozzle firefighter moves hand-line to the officer to maintain protection, and assist in removal.
Interior crews must always be cognizant of structural stability when operating in any multi floor occupancy. Fire can weaken structural members and additional weight of firefighters and water can increase the threat of collapse. Stairs are for moving not hanging out and must be ascended, and descended rapidly.

 

Town House: Transitional Attack
*The way the occupancy is constructed it can be difficult to perform a transitional attack on side Charlie floors, especially with 1 engine company on scene. However, it is not impossible, if the occupancy is an end of the row then stretching around the side is feasible. If it is in the middle of the row forcing entry to an exposure occupancy and stretching the line through that occupancy to side Charlie of the fire building can be done. This also gives the crew a chance to assess the conditions in the exposure which must also eventually be searched. Transitional attack is something that must be considered in any upper floor town house fire, especially in a low man power situation ad stretching lines to upper floors via the interior stairs or alternative means is difficult for the most well- staffed engine companies. Knocking a fire down and transitioning to the interior will buy time for viable victims, and provide a safer and faster interior stretch to the fire room. If possible assigning another engine to side Charlie can quicken a transitional attack allowing the side Charlie engine to hit the fire and the side Alpha engine company to stretch interior once they are finished, however this is not always possible.
While responding the first in officer should relay the water supply plan to the other responding companies.
Upon arrival the officer gives and initial on scene size up.
The nozzle firefighter deploys attack hand line.
The officer performs a 360-degree size up. This is vital to ensure the location of the fire, assess flashover potential, locate the best entry point, locate possible exit points, assess any hazards present, and locate victims that may have self-evacuated to the other sides of the building
While the officer is performing the 360 (this can be afterward if the officer identifies the room on the 360), the nozzle firefighter begins to flow water into the fire room.
Once the 360 is complete the officer and nozzle firefighter transition to the interior, and advance to the fire room, where water is flowed to fully extinguish the fire.
Once the hand line is flowing water into the fire room, the officer begins to search off the hose line from the fire room back, starting with the rooms directly adjacent to the fire room. The Nozzle firefighter maintains their position in the fire room protecting the searching officer.

If a victim is located the officer makes contact with the nozzle firefighter, if fire is still active the officer attempts removal, or isolation. If fire not active nozzle firefighter moves hand-line to the officer to maintain protection, and assist in removal.
It is important to note that once transitioned to the interior the same rules apply as interior fire attack. Structural stability must be assessed, and the stairs a primary route of travel and critical piece of interior real estate must be controlled and protected.
Again, this is not an ideal situation, but a plan to accomplish two critical fire ground tasks with minimal man power, and maximizing safety. No matter if your attack starts interior or exterior eventually the building must be searched. Having a well-coordinated plan, and training on the plan is the key to proper execution on the fire ground.

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