(Photos by Brian Clark/bclark@modbee.com)

On January 1, 2010, Modesto Fire Department responded to a residential structure fire that was started in the garage from the residents using a candle to provide light while filling a gasoline generator. The resulting fire engulfed the garage and prompted the decision to have the truck company perform vertical ventilation OPS on the roof in concert with engine companies dealing with extinguishing the fire.

RIC Team In Place Two truck company firefighters fell through the roof while performing ventilation operations. The good news here is that a RIC team was set up and in place. When the mayday was issued, the two firefighters were immediately located, removed and turned over to EMS on the scene. This was a text book operation for bread and butter residential structure fires with contingencies in place, should something go wrong.

Fuel Loading: We all know about fuel loading right? Lot's of fuel in the garage (e.g. cardboard boxes, books, newspapers, car, lawn mower, edger, gas cans, hazmat, you know, common stuff...) means that you will have a lot of heat generated, which of course lends itself toward accelerating the intensity of the fire and the eventual structural failure and collapse of the roof.

Truss Construction and Gusset Plates: Couple this with the common use of gusset plates that are used for Truss Construction where you have a piece of metal with pointed spikes punches through the metal connecting pieces of wood to create a truss.

This is great for companies mass producing homes today but not great for us considering that there is not much purchase for the gusset plate to attach itself to the wood. Remember when we actually used nails to build homes? This is a big enough issue that even the CDC has issued a warning for firefighters. Please take the time to review this.

NIOSH Publication No. 2005-132:
Preventing Injuries and Deaths of F...

What prompted me to create this post was the following quotes from the Modesto Bee newspaper:

““There was a catastrophic failure on the roof and the two firefighters fell through,” Patino said. “Upon collapse, the mayday was reported. The intervention crew was pressed into service and within a couple of minutes, they had both firefighters out.”

Patino said the intensity of the heat caused the roof to collapse significantly sooner than usual, adding that he was told by crew member that he had never seen a roof fail in that short amount of time.”

The CDC / NIOSH report specifically warns and lists three scenarios that can occur in which fire fighters suffer fatalities and injuries while operating at fires involving truss roof and floor systems:

1. While fire fighters are operating above a burning roof or floor truss , they may fall into a fire as the sheathing or the truss system collapses below them.

2. While fire fighters are operating below the roof or floor inside a building with burning truss floor or roof structures , the trusses may collapse onto them.

3. While fire fighters are operating outside a building with burning trusses , the floor or roof trusses may collapse and cause a secondary wall collapse.

Fire Engineering wrote an exceptional article on the subject that gets into much more of the process of why things collapse and the times associated depending upon how things are constructed and the specific materials. This chart gives a good general idea as to how long you have before structural collapse can occur...

Key Question: My question for the more experienced engine company and truck folks out there is how do you approach residential structure fires where the garage is fully involved?

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Here in my department we really evaluate the need and tactic of venting of every fire. In this particuliar scenario I probably would have taken the following actions.
-Line(s) into the residents for attack towards the engulfed garage.
-I would have strategically timed attack to vent and then performed a horizontal vent on the D side and pushed everything that way from withinin the residence. Along with this I would use PPV to assist.
-I would have another team checking for extension from within the residence.
-Once the fire was "darkened" I would have another line make entrance into the garage from the door to complete the extinguishing of the garage.
-Begin overhaul.
Now of course that is whiteboard tactics and of course there are other issues at hand such as Personnel on-scene and enroute, RIC, water supply, and of course the other 3 dozens things that an IC has to consider. We specifically use HORZ venting for garage because of the typical "high fuel" that is found in a garage.
That is my quick and dirty for this scenario.
Be safe and learn something new everyday.
We specifically use HORZ venting for garage because of the typical "high fuel" that is found in a garage.

This lesson alone reinforced by your departments policy will save lives for those reading this post and who have not yet developed an SOG or SOP. Thanks for your response. It's spot on as the aussies would call it.


Train as if your life depended upon it... because it does...
Simple, we do not go to the roof, horizontally ventilate when and where possible. We have had 3 fully involved garage fires upon arrival recently, due to the fuel loads inside of the garages. As you stated Capt, with fuel loads such as gasoline, kerosene, acetylene and oxygen welding equipment, scrap wood, painting materials, etc., etc. it's too dangerous. Surround and drown with big lines, protect exposures(Two of the three garage fires had SFDs and other garages within an arms length away, and were protected/saved with very minimal damage, even when flames were impinging upon said exposures). If it's an attached garage, as Capt Alex said, we too enter from the residence. Approach with extreme caution once the bulk of the fire is knocked down. Once you have the bulk of the fire knocked down, you'll notice the roof sagging and walls buckling. We try not to even enter them for overhaul if possible, doing it all from the exterior.
Don't go on the roof! Fully involved means fully involved, what's to save at that point? If for some reason command wants to see it vented then is should be from the ladder truck, otherwise, adios garage and work on saving the rest of the structure.

From the UL studies on truss collapse the interesting thing to note is that there is no warning prior to collapse, no sponginess and no bounce. The key indicator is temperature prior to collapse but that may only hold true for roofs, apparently in these same studies with floor collapse there was no noticeable difference in temperature at the floor prior to collapse.

For an attached garage it's entrance from the house, push it back into the garage and out the door or window with a back up line behind you to cover you and prevent spread into the house. As for making entry into the garage via the garage opening, I wouldn't unless the garage door has already collapsed down onto the floor. If it's still up in the track it's a disaster waiting to happen, capable of falling straight down on ff's as they work in.
I have to agree with everything that everyone has said already. I also hate to be a Monday Morning QB, but why would you ever need to vertically ventilate a garage fire? Every garage fire I have ever been on has either been fought from the house to the fire (attached) or from the outside due to the unknown. Fighting a garage fire to save the contents is usually like trying to save a car in a car fire. The damage has already been done and you are not likely to save much at all. Besides the obvious building construction issues with horizontal ventilation, what could possible be gained by this? We kill and/or hurt too many guys each year. A little good sense (common sense is not common, or we would all have it) goes a long way. If the OIC is ordering someone to a roof that has no benefit, then someone needs to be questioning the tactic. Or, drag your feet a little bit, the roof will either fail or self vent in the meantime.

Stay safe.
otherwise, adios garage and work on saving the rest of the structure

hope folks that read this are paying attention... this is a common sense approach that as you can see is a consistent approach from seasoned veteran firefighters responding to this post...
Why would you put a trench cut into a SFD, or a single or double car garage?
mmm a trench cut does sound good but once collapse happens wouldnt it be ventilated?

Yikes!!! The whole point of this post was to point out how ridiculous it is to spend time getting on a single family dwelling (SFD) garage. the construction standards, using pre-made truss construction and laminated wood do not do well when exposed to the excessive fuel loads found in an average garage.

Firefighters died two days ago, conducting roof ventilation on a structure fire that involved the garage. The decision to do vertical ventilation on a roof of a SFD cost folks their lives. And for what?

Please note the CDC/NIOSH warning to firefighters about truss construction hazards.

Trench cutting usually requires some sort of roof ops. Putting firefighters on the roof of a fully involved garage fire is not a good call, period. The risk does not outweigh the benefit. Everything in the garage is toast anyway.

Your goals are to prevent the non-burned areas of the structure from becoming involved. I'm not going to stand alone here on the soap box preaching when and how to ventilate a structure. There's some experts out there like Tiger that can address this topic. Instead, all I wanted to point out here is how dangerous it is to consider this as a viable tactic.

Anyone else with me on this one? CBz
Hi Loyd... I don't think a trench cut sounds good... at all. Why? Because as you can see below, a garage with a heavy load is going to bring the roof down in no time. This is what killed the Modesto firefighters yesterday. We need to learn from their actions. CBz
Sound just like what I said earlier. There is nothing to save in a garage that is involved. There is nothing but bad that will come from going on a roof of any fully involved structure. A trench cut takes way too long to perform and way too long to be on a trussed roof. As a regional coordinator for Honor Their Sacrifices, we stive to educate and prevent repeat incidents. This is a prime example of what we should never see again!
:Raises hand!: I was just trying to be pleasant with my reply in the form of a question. Guess I have too much jeopardy on my mind. What's that about sugar coating things again? Lesson learned, no more.

Michael and Loyd, don't ever go to the roof in a scenario such as this. And if anyone ever orders you to the roof in this type of scenario, question the tactic, suggest horizontal ventilation to the one giving the order.

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