(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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In June of 2009 I responded to a house fire where the fire began in the attic space above the garage. Upon my arrival firefighters were in progress of an exterior attack through the D-side eve vent. This was pushing the fire through the attic back across the house, so I had them to cut roof openings on the A-side roof between the garage (fire) and the kitchen. They then pulled ceiling in the kitchen and attack with a 1 ¾ line with positive pressure being introduced at the front door side A. The fire was contained to the garage area and there was little damage inside the home. Many smaller departments and volunteer departments fail to look at roof ventilation operations, mostly due to lack of manpower. Sometimes it’s your only choice to cut the fire off.
Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings! we all have a responsibility to one another to share our experiences, good and bad, to ensure better outcomes in the future.

Rick Westerman
It is sad to see so many brother firefighters hanging on the words of the media and an initial report by a Battalion Chief/PIO. The statement: "The intensity of the heat caused the roof to collapse significantly sooner than usual" (possibly incorrect), was quickly turned into a "fully involved garage fire". I do not like these forums because everyone becomes an instant expert. All these comments were made without the privilege of facts.

Here are some of the facts of this fire: Crews were on scene in six minutes. A heavy amount of smoke was seen coming from the residence. No flames were seen. The Engineer sounding the roof found it to be solid. Six minutes after arrival of the initial units the entire roof structure of the garage failed. The Captain and Engineer of this Truck Company were both experienced firefighters (33 and 24 years respectively) spending most of their careers on Truck Companies. Neither had ever seen a structural collapse happen so soon with such conditions.

As per The Report of Initial Findings, "The initial investigation has found that the structural integrity of the roof may have been compromised in the garage area prior to the fire." More can be said about this but I refrain until the Final Report comes out. Should we be on the roof of a garage? This is a good question for discussion, there are many reasons not to. The Coston fire was not typical. Please Brothers, keep to the facts.

With all do respect, the trench cut is a terrible idea in this scenerio. We are talking about a garage...no life safety issue. Second we have a "fully involved" structure...this means the structural integrity of the building is being compromised and the trench cut takes time...time you don't have. We are a very aggressive verticle ventilation department and we would not go on the roof of a garage to ventilate.
Verticle ventilation is a risky endeavor. Risk alittle to safe alittle, risk a lot to safe a lot. Stay safe
Capt. Busy have you seen the newer construction houses with a bonus room over the garage? We had a call that had this situation back around the first of the year. Fire appeared to have started in the garage and had some extension into the bonus room. We managed to confine the fire to these 2 areas after making interior into the bonus room. The interior guys kept sounding the floor the whole time they were working the bonus room. Have you had any kind of experience with these floor plans? The fire got into the bonus room from the garage thru the front windows from the garage entrance. Like I said we managed to keep the fire confined to the garage and the bonus room with very small extension into the attic. I was wondering what kind of experience and advice you had for these.
If this structure was a lightweight engineered wood frame, then collapses of this type are indeed typical, and will become more typical.

"Neither had ever seen a structural collapse happen so soon with such conditions."

Lots of experience with other building construction types doesn't prepare you for fires in lightweight wood/engineered systems and non-dimensional lumber roof and floor support systems.

I've seen engineered roofs fail in the time it took the truckies to sound the edge of the roof, exit the aerial ladder, walk to the peak while sounding the roof, see fire break through, drop their tools and RUN for the aerial, and miss being barbecued in the huge fire that vented when the roof collapse only because a quick-thinking driver/operator rotated the aerial away from the fire with the rest of his crew still on the aerial.

Lots of experience with fires in a given structure type doesn't do much to prepare you for fires in a different structure type, even if the structures superficially resemble each other from the exterior.
I'm not Capt. BZ, but I've seen several of these. I live in a neighborhood where the over-garage bonus rooms are common, and they're supported by lightweight trusses.

Garage fires under the bonus room tend to make the fire quickly autoextend to the bonus room. The bonus room floor can collapse very quickly from a working fire in the garate.

Bonus rooms (at least in my part of the world) have one of two specific problems.

1) The bonus room may be used as a child's bedroom. If the occupants don't self-rescue, this can be an immediate, high-risk search and rescue assignment. The strategy choice here is between a quick search above the fire with a corresponding OFFENSIVE attack from the house interior through the interior garage access door, or a TRANSITIONAL attack on the garage fire to reduce the heat attack on the bonus room floor trusses, followed by a slightly delayed bonus room search.

2) The bonus room may be used as a media and recreation room. Having a pool table and a 80-inch plasma screen TV land on your head while you attack the garage fire could possibly leave a mark.
One other thing about sounding the roof over lightweight, engineered construction.

Sounding tells you that the roof deck is probably solid - for now.

Sounding does NOT tell you that the roof support system is solid now, or that it will be solid six minutes into the future.
Well if it is a strictly a detached garage, no ventilation is needed. Knock it down from an exterior line. Hopefully they have insurance. If the garage is attached to a house, then we would attack the garage from the house and hold it to the garage. If ventilation is needed because the garage is a two story with an in-law apartment above, we would use a Tower Ladder for exterior ventilation.
We did a simultanious attack on the garage and the bonus room and managed to stop the fire there and had very little damage to the rest of the structure or contents. Two things helped with was 1-quick 911 call and 2-quick response. But in the salvage/overhaul phase we could see potential for a lot of problems which is why I brought it up here. Thanks Ben.
Good points. There's a big difference between this...


and this...

I don't see a need for roof work on the first one under any circumstances.

The second one might require searches and fire attack lateral to and over the garage, but it would depend upon the level of involvement, reported victims, fire spread, water and manpower availability, and a host of other size-up factors.

The last one would require interior lines for confinement and to protect the interior search teams, but it shouldn't require roof work.

Venting from a tower ladder (or snorkel, or aerial ladder tip) is useful when you can position the apparatus within reach, but around here, getting the truck in position is almost never possible due to tree cover, narrow/obstructed driveways, and extra private vehicles in the driveway.

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