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How We Search: Multi Family Occupancies


Before we continue on with our “How We Search” series I would be remiss if I did not point out the several tragedies that happened yesterday. First of all it started with the Worcester Mass. Fire Department suffering another tragedy just mere days from the anniversary of the 6 firefighters lost in the Cold Storage Building. Sadly some people have forgotten this fire, as once I found out about it, I told the guys on shift and said “man so close to the anniversary” to which I was met with “anniversary of what” I wanted to beat my head against the wall. If you’re a fireman and do not know about the Worcester Cold Storage Fire and the significance of it then you need an education.

On top of that here in Virginia a Police Officer was shot and killed on the Campus of Virginia Tech, and a Virginia State Trooper was shot in Caroline County. Needless to say it was a crazy day here close to home and across the country. Its tragic when ever things like this happen but so close to the holidays makes it that much tougher, please try to spare a few minuets and think about the families that are affected and then honor their memory by getting out there and training to be the best you can be. Now on with the show…..


How We Search: Multi Family Occupancies

For the purposes of this discussion a “Multi Family Occupancy” is any occupancy that can house multiple families. Apartment Building, Town Homes, Row Homes, Subdivided Homes, etc. these buildings when on fire will affect more than one “family” for lack of a better term and it requires aggressive actions in the fire area, and adjacent areas.

Like anything else knowing what type of Multi Families you have in your district is a must, as the features in each type can be different. Even similar type, and style occupancies may have different construction features that make that particular one unique and force a tactical change. For example I have seen several “Garden Apartments” that have different types of stairwells. Some are enclosed, some are open breezeway, some of the stairs are metal, some are wood, some are a combination of the two. A fire in an open stairwell with wood stairs is a completely different animal than a an enclosed stair well with metal stairs.

Additionally some Multi Families have fire walls, and some have open cock lofts this plays a big role in the smoke and fire spread problem as well as the rescue profile of an adjacent occupancy. The only way to know is to get into them ahead of time, and identify the construction features.

The positive thing is that once you have seen the layout of one apartment/room you can predict what the others will be like. In a typical apartment the living area and kitchen will be the first rooms you come to once you crest the door way with the bedrooms and bathrooms being toward the back of the apartment typically in a hallway. In a townhouse you usually either run right into the stairs as you come into the first floor which has a kitchen and living room area, with the bed rooms being on the second and or third floors. Sometimes however they will change the stair position and you will have to walk into the kitchen area to access the stairs and the 2nd floor.

So why does this matter? Well people are creatures of habit, just like us civilians revert to what they normally do in times of crisis. So if Mrs. Smith goes down the stairs and out the back door everyday chances are you are going to find her along that route if she is still in the fire building upon your arrival. Knowing the common stair areas, and location of bedrooms will allow you to bullseye your search effort in order to save time.

Again as usual who and what you bring with you to a fire is also a factor in how your going to search. If you do not have a Ladder company then your search options may be limited. If you have a three-story apartment and a 24 foot ladder your only going to be able to reach the 2nd floor via ladder so if people are presenting out of a third floor window they are going to have to be removed via the interior. Remember that the “Engine Company Search” is still a great option. It is slower but putting the fire out typically makes everything better and guy by those occupants more time. The plan “A” for my fire department is typically to V.E.S. (Vent, Enter, Search) Multi Family Occupancies ESPECIALLY at night when there is a higher likely hood of people sleeping, however DO NOT let time of day factor in as much as it used to. There are a thousand different types of shifts out there and it is not uncommon for people to be sleeping during the day. In fact after a busy shift when my youngest son goes down for a nap your likely to find me on the couch. So if a fire were to occur mid day in my home you would have 2 sleeping occupants to be rescued. This is the reason we tend to V.E.S 9 times out of 10. However we do not “classically” V.E.S. with our low man power once the initial bedroom is clear (either victim located and removed, or negative search) we will check the common hall way for fire conditions. If the Hallway is tenable we will search the other adjacent rooms right then. If not we will exit the room, and then move the ladder to the next best location to search and do it again. Again this is not the classic V.E.S. but it is something we do in order to maximize our man power. Additionally whenever you have crews operating in a search on upper floors, they need multiple ways out, do not skimp on the ladders (unless you do not have any).

Bottom line and if you take nothing else from this is to focus your search efforts to common areas (bedrooms, living rooms, hallways stairwells). The logic is that if they are asleep they will be in either living rooms, or bedrooms, and if awake they will probably try to evacuate and if overcome in transit will be in egress areas (doors, windows, stairwells, hallways).

Remember that staffing, building construction, and fire conditions all play a factor in what tactic or tactics you use. It is always important to preplan as many occupancies in your district as possible. Additionally each incident is unique and even if you are familiar with the building a proper size up is MANDATORY prior to launching into any operational mode.

In the future as we expand on the topic I will be posting on searching in residential, high-rise, motels, and on V.E.S. specifically. As always any feedback, discussion, and “how you do it in your department” are always welcome and encouraged.

Do not forget to keep following along on twitter @averagejakeff

As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!





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