Garage Fires – Lessons Learned
Every one of us has responded on a number of garage fires in our career. Most are routine and uneventful. However, if you become complacent and aren’t pro-active, the results can be tragic. Each year a number of firefighters are injured or killed while fighting residential garage fires. There are several “common denominators” at garage fires that result in firefighter injuries and deaths.
Entering a burning building through the large garage door seems like a quick and easy access method. However, while the opening may appear ideal, the door itself poses a substantial threat to firefighters. Let’s discuss two scenarios; arriving on scene with the large door open and arriving on scene with the large door closed.
Nothing beats putting “wet stuff on the red stuff” sooner than later. For this reason, I have found that making a direct attack with my first line on the fire-through the large open door is very successful. I realize some of you are thinking, “you should pull your attack line through the front door, living room and kitchen then attack the fire in the garage from inside the house”. Initial thoughts are, you are theoretically pushing the fire away from the interior of the house. The problem is, that when you open the interior door of the house all of the heat and smoke enters the house. In effect, you have defeated the one hour rated door and surrounding drywall that was built to prevent a garage fire from extending into the house.
Another consideration is that you’ll have to wait to enter due to the need to perform forcible entry on the front door and pulling a 1-3/4” line from the street, across the front lawn, into the house, around several interior corners and furniture can take several minutes to implement. In addition, an experienced firefighter knows how to effectively adjust the hose stream to maximize extinguishment and minimize pushing the fire into another room.
It’s critical that you support/prop up the open door to prevent it from closing. The last thing you want is it coming down and injuring firefighters or trapping them inside. Pike poles or rubbish hooks work well for this. If it’s a sectional door, simply reach up above your head and fasten a pair of vise grips on both tracks. If the door starts to come down-it will stop when it encounters the vise grips. In addition, shut off the electricity ASAP. This is additional insurance that a short won’t engage the motor and close the door.
Cutting an access in the door is safer than lifting it open. The sudden rush of air that occurs when you lift a door open can envelope firefighters in a fireball. Cut the door with an inverted “L” cut. This is far superior than a “teepee” cut. It creates a much bigger access and escape. If you encounter a metal sectional door, make your horizontal cuts in the middle of the panels to avoid the metal hinges. On older solid wood doors, simply roll-over the metal tension rods with your chainsaw.
My second line would go through the front door. Their primary job is to clear a primary search and to check for fire extension into the house and attic, specifically through the door leading from the garage to the house. If the door is intact, my third line will back up my initial attack line in the garage. If the door has been breached and the fire has entered the house, my third line may be best directed into the house to support the primary search and fire knockdown in the house.
Every homeowner utilizes the garage rafters for storage. Beware of early collapse due to this weight and especially if lightweight construction is present.