A Great Example of Correct Size Up and Command in Lima, Ohio
By Joe Pronesti
While enjoying a beverage after a round of golf at my local club I heard a fellow member utter the phrase about firefighters being “basement savers”, this gentlemen is not one of my golf partners so I blew it off but thought of a recent fire event in a town near me in Ohio that had a perfect example of size up, command and hazards eliminated in a Type III vacant building.
Lima, Ohio is in Allen County it is a normal city with a normal fire department that protects roughly 50,000 plus citizens. Its department responds to roughly 6,500 calls a year and responds to mostly your typical residential house fire, the Lima fire department (LFD) is a full-time department, runs out of three stations and has a minimum of 16 members on duty.
On Tuesday June 24, 2020 at roughly 2045 hours the LFD was dispatched to 122 North Elizabeth Street for a fire in a vacant downtown building, built roughly 100 years ago this building was last home to a popular night club but since had been boarded up and frequented by vagrants.
Crews on arrival under the command of Captain Brad Miller (Car 12) found heavy fire on division 2 with fire through windows on A and B sides with reports of possible homeless people inside, additional alarms were called, offensive attack was attempted but because of the fire conditions and condition of the building a defensive attack was commenced.
So, what is the big deal? You may ask, well while this building was indeed destroyed and nothing, but the basement was left, the IC (Capt. Miller) set an example all small departments paid, or part time should take note of and study for their next “Main Street” fire. I will identify three tactics that most departments that handle the residential fire 20 times for every 1 commercial can error on thus causing injured firefighter or worse.
Most fire departments (mine included) stress the truck gets the front of the building for most fires and day in and day out this works but with a Type III commercial you need to consider collapse and spot apparatus in flanking positions on the corners of the building. You get one chance to set up your truck apparatus the right way on Main Street and if crews operate with tunnel vision or spot like they would for residential fires it can lead to vacated, crushed apparatus. Captain Miller spotted his first due engine with a 75’ quint (Engine 1) on the A-B corner, he then spotted his truck company (Truck 1) on the B-C corner in a vacant lot in between the main fire building at 122 Elizabeth and this lot was a two story Ordinary building which needed exposure protection, a mutual aid aerial was also set up in a flanking position on the A-D corner.
So many times, we read on social media how vacant buildings need to be searched for victims, this is true of course given a proper size up, and command. Captain Miller ordered a search and also teamed up two companies on a 2 ½ ” attack line, so many times smaller departments that utilize 1 ¾” handlines for 90% of their fires with a single engine crew of 2-3 will try to make this same number work when advancing larger lines for commercial interior attack. In my opinion, this will set up a department for failure even with the best training, to ask an engine boss and his/her firefighter to stretch a larger line to an upper floor under the impression they can do it like they are stretching on a 2,000 square foot residential is a common failure we see time and time again. If you want to fail on an offensive attack in a commercial building have a 2 or 3-person engine crew stretch, for example if you run three person companies and team up crews for a 2 ½” offensive attack that will give you four on the line and a true company boss that can direct this line effectively leaving of course a pump operator at the pump.
Collapse Zones Established and Announced via radio
After withdrawing crews, Captain Miller announced and made sure that collapse zones were established and adhered to, again the typical fire department responding to the typical house fire day in and day out does not have to worry about collapse zones, they can be easily forgotten and also more importantly not maintained. Once the decision to go defensive on a Type III building only large lines and master streams should be used utilizing their reach and penetration. One only need to research the recent line of duty deaths in Kansas City, Missouri in 2015 that took the lives of two firefighters and injured dozens when the D side wall collapsed at a Type III building, If unaware of this event a simple search can quickly inform and enlighten.
Captain Miller needed to get “eyes” all around the building and exposures he established officers to handle this quickly once defensive operations commenced, he needed to have people looking at the big picture and also eliminate a ton of radio communications. Again, many a department will try to lone ranger the command and control of a large fire whether by arrogance or simple ignorance. If you are in a command position in a small department start thinking about dividing up the fireground on larger events even larger house fires.
In the end the building was in fact destroyed but if you get into the facts and study an event like this you will find outstanding work for what some may say was just a foundation save. Captain Miller and the rest of the LFD should be proud, and I want to thank that fellow golf club member for helping find a wonderful firefighting lesson to share. I hope to beat him on the course!
Joe Pronesti is a 32 year veteran of Elyria Ohio fire department frequent contributor to Firefighter Nation and Fire Engineering contributor and podcast host.