Saturday, August 13, 2011

Maximizing effectiveness on the roof

When you go to the roof, what tools do you bring? The usual answer is the saw, a set of irons, a hook or pike pole, and life-saving rope. Is that all? The tool that might serve us best when conducting roof operations is often left on the rig: the thermal imaging camera (TIC). It should be a mandatory part of the roof tool inventory. First of all, how do you know where to cut your hole? Nineteenth-century thinking such as “bubbling tar”, “a dry spot on a wet day”, or “a place where the snow or ice is melted”, is ineffective and guesswork. Twentieth-century thinking such as “communication with the crews on the top floor” is also a hit or miss and subject to interpretative confusion. The thermal imaging camera will show a heat signature on any type roof (or on a floor above a cellar fire) where you can at least sink an examination hole and evaluate the situation. It is much better then guessing or using outdated methods.

The TIC can also be used to check around soil pipes for heat, check a cornice for potential fire spread, check an exposure roof and scan a roof soffit for heat build-up. Another valuable use is when the smoke condition on the roof is such that visibility is reduced and you are trying to find your way off the roof. In this case, the team using the TIC may be able to scan the roof and “see” where the aerial is or where a fire escape is located to more easily find their egress. It can also be used by an officer to keep track of his or her crews. One word of caution: just like a hole in the floor or a missing step, the presence of a shaft will be difficult to determine with the TIC unless there is heat coming from it. It may just look black on the screen. Be careful – always use common sense safety precautions when working on the roof such as was mentioned in the last installment about probing and keeping the weight off the leading foot. Remember – the tool you do not take with you is often the tool you need most.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Make sure that where you are stepping is there

Always probe with your weight on the back foot.

Gravity never takes a day (or a minute) off. When making those forays across a floor above a fire area, across the roof, or in any area where structural integrity is suspect, personnel should use a tool to probe ahead of them. Don’t, however, let this lead tool give you a false sense of security. When probing with a tool, consciously make an effort to keep your weight off the tool so that you will not fall if something gives way or you encounter a hole in the floor, or in the case of a roof, an unprotected shaft is present.

During hands-on training search operations at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, we noticed that most firefighters do a good job of probing for floors, but they keep too much weight on the probing hand, foot, or tool. We had areas with floors missing and when the probing tool or body part found that area, the individual usually could not stop from falling forward into the missing floor as his forward momentum carried his body and the tool into the hole. We had to extricate more than a few surprised firefighters from these areas (they had a hood over their head for the evolution). Hopefully it was a lesson learned the hard way, but in a training session and not in the harder environment that is the fireground. Never trust what is in front of you without testing the area. Keep the weight off the leading foot or tool, and you will not experience a gravity-induced rapid downward movement.