By Homer Robertson
Published Monday, October 8, 2012
Our goal for each Quick Drills column is to give the company officer resources to create a fast training session for their crew, or to give the volunteer training officer an idea for a night drill when it’s been a busy week and preparing the night’s training took a backseat to other priorities.
Many of the fire and rescue operations we perform are complex processes, and they’re almost all performed during emergency situations. As a result, we don’t have the time to read a step-by-step manual to walk us through the process. Our actions must come from memory, from skills we develop studying and repeating hands-on training until it becomes second nature.
Quick Drills is geared toward giving you bites, not the entire meal, because most of the subjects we discuss could fill several pages if we tried to cover everything, and with the fire service being the way it is, there’s just a lot of different ways to do the same job. Hopefully these small points generate interest and create questions that lead to more training, because the more we know, the more we need to know. More information is coming out about the way adults learn and retain information. Most experts agree that adults learn best by receiving new information in small segments and then retain it by performing an action—all of which fits perfectly into training in the fire station.
Roof operations are a great example. The entire process of vertical ventilation is a complex one, but we can provide some training tips that break this process down to make the tactics involved easier to learn and retain.
Some departments are going to the roof less often these days, opting to use forms of horizontal ventilation—such as positive pressure ventilation—in place of vertical ventilation. Regardless, roof operations of some form remain fairly common in all fire departments. You may need to go to the roof to investigate an overheated A/C motor on an HVAC unit or to do something more complex, like cutting a hole in the roof during a structure fire. Either way, some basic tactics apply.
The size-up of a building is the single most important step of a roof operation, because when you’re going to the roof of a structure that’s on fire, there’s just not a lot of room for error. Following are some points to consider:
Choose the right ladder
When choosing a ladder for roof ops, make sure you have more than you need. If the ladder is just a little short of its intended target, it’s not the right one for the job. The ladder tip should extend past the roofline or balcony railing by two or three rungs; this makes it easier to see during night operations or in smoky conditions. It also makes transitioning from the building to the ladder easier. Also review your department’s guidelines for ladder placement to windows. Note: Choosing the right ladder may also require you to choose between the aerial and the ground ladder, based on the needs of the operations. Be sure to cover the pros and cons of using each.
Place the ladder correctly
Good ladder placement is your starting point and should never be taken for granted, so take time to discuss it with your crew. Ideally, you want to start from the strongest points of the building, like the corners, where the dangers of the fire haven’t damaged the supporting structural members. This also provides an area of refuge to get off of the building.
You may encounter obstructions when laddering a building, including signs, electrical power lines going into the building and other overhead lines and cables for cable TV or telephone. Another often-overlooked obstruction is the height of the parapet wall. In many commercial buildings, the parapet wall in the front may be very tall in order to hide equipment on the roof and make the building more visually appealing. The height of these walls can be deceiving from the ground during size-up. Before placing a ladder to a parapet wall, determine the location of the scuppers in relationship to the top of the parapet wall (see photo). If this is the only place you can spot the ladder for roof access, you may also need a ladder for the other side of the parapet wall. Don’t take chances thinking you can jump up and grab the ladder when you’ve completed your work. Your strength will be reduced on the way down.
Sound the roof
I believe you should use roof ladders for added protection whenever you can, or work from the protection of a tower ladder bucket if that option is available, but there are times when you have to put your boots on the roof deck. If so, sound the roof ahead of you.
Every department has their go-to tool to for sounding. My weapon of choice is the 6' rubbish hook because it allows you to sound out ahead of you as you walk toward your desired area to work. Its large head works great to give you a feel for the roof deck and it also serves as a useful tool to pull up roof decking as it is cut.
Use the strong areas
Walk and work along the natural strong areas that the roof’s construction features offer you, such as the hips, valleys, ridges and load-bearing walls. Moving across open roof areas can present a lot of unseen dangers even when you’re prepared, so use caution.
Watch for hazards
There are many roof hazards, both seen and unseen. Easily identified hazards include trip hazards, skylights, satellite dishes and even TV antennas. I know, nobody uses TV antennas anymore, but they’re still on the roof of many buildings and most are about head-level.
Unseen hazards include the building construction materials. Plywood decking, for example, can melt away very quickly when exposed to fire conditions while giving the appearance of a solid roof from above. Again, sounding and reading the roof can help prevent possible problems.
One Step at a Time
This is far from being everything you need to teach your crew about going to the roof. But as noted above, sometimes, smaller chunks of information are more easily retained. Use this information as a 20-minute training session that works well for the adult learner. Remember: Every day is a training day, a little at a time.
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