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Where’s the Fire? Just Ask.

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March 03, 2016 | PENNSYLVANIA MICHAEL BAKER, Correspondent

Moths to the flame. There may be a bit of truth to that description of firefighters.How often do we witness fire crews charging off of first arriving fire units past residents or business owners huddled near the building entrance? Perhaps a bit more often than we realize. There can be a wealth of information available from those residents,owners and workers if we take a few seconds to ask. Simple questions that can be answered quickly can save time and effort once inside the building initiating operations. I have always tried to ask these questions when time allows and there are people near the entrance:
Anyone know what’s burning ?
Anyone know where the fire is? ( room, apartment, floor )
Is this the best entrance to get to the fire ?
And of course, is anyone still inside ?

If the fire building is pushing smoke out the front door, it is often valuable to ask where the stairs to the upper floors and to the basement are located. Older homes may have many closets whose doors resemble the basement doorway. Stairways to the second floor can be in the entrance hallway, off of the living room near the front entrance or across the room as is the case in many row homes. A little knowledge from the homeowner can save a lot of feeling your way in the smoke. (Yes, I know TICs can also make this task easier but not every unit has a TIC and when used they still may require a bit of “what’s behind door number 1” searching.)

A late night/early morning apartment building fire in a large apartment complex brings to mind an example of how asking a simple question or 2 can expedite the location and attack on a fire. As we arrived on the first due engine, we encountered good smoke pushing from the eaves of sides B and D of a 3 story apartment building. We advanced our attack hoseline to the courtyard entrance of the building, where we found a large group of residents who had obviously hurried out of their apartments. Smoke condition in the glass fronted stairway indicated smoke on the second floor and heavier smoke on the third. Right before masking up, I asked a gentleman who was closest to the entry steps if he knew where the fire was. And answering as calmly as if I had asked the time of day, he pointed to a third floor apartment and said, “yeah, right there”. Once upstairs in the hallway, a quick push on the door with a haligan confirmed his information as true. An attack on an advanced kitchen fire was started and search crews located and removed an unconscious victim.

Speaking of apartment buildings, we have all at one time or another been in a hallway with the unmistakable odor of burnt food in the air and with enough smoke to tell us that someone opened their apartment door just long enough to activate the hallway smoke detectors and set off the fire alarm bells or claxons. Often times the same resident will quickly close the door and retreat to the "safety" of that apartment knowing that they were responsible for the bells sounding and their fellow residents leaving the building. Door banging and yelling " Fire Department" will eventually be annoying enough for the culprit to come forward and own up to the careless cooking. Now, change the senario to asking the huddled residents outside who set off the fire alarm and quite often they will be more than happy to give you the apartment and even the name of the resident: " It's that Mr. Smith in 308...Again !

In the case of reported entrapment, relevant questions can help to sort out the validity of the report ( although we always search, right ?) and channel rescue efforts to the right area. A police officer asking an excited neighbor if someone is in the house will almost get a yes answer, unless the occupants are visible on the outside of the building. Who would say no , and feel responsible if a victim was found ? Not your average neighbor. Likewise, a car in the driveway may be an indicator of persons inside the home . But asking if the car is normally there and/or is it what the residents normally drive may provide valuable information to the search team. "That car hasn't moved in 5 years". When in doubt, ask.

So consider becoming a "fire detective" when you arrive at fire scenes. Think Who,Where and How. Who lives or works here, where is the fire, and how do we best access the fire. Of course we don't interrogate people or make them feel guilty for calling us. But quick question with quick answers may be a tool that can be added to the first arriving unit's tactical approach to locating, confining and extinguishing the fire.

Stay Safe.

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MICHAEL BAKERCorrespondent

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