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Flat Roof Operations

As fire officers and firefighters, we must operate on roof systems. We will discuss safe and effective operations on a flat roof. All members operating on the roof must be in full personnel protective gear including SCBA. The roof team members should bring tools such as 6-foot roof hook, halligan bar, pick head axe and saw. The roof division has a critical role in the tactical operations on the fireground. The roof division must be the eyes and ears for the Incident Commander. Upon arrival at the scene the fire officer and firefighters assigned to roof must conduct a size up of the fire building. What’s the type of construction/occupancy, height of the building, location and extent of fire, any life hazard or victims, how do we get to the roof? The firefighters should never use the interior stairs of the fire building.

As we know; heat and the products of combustion will rise and cause mushrooming on the upper floors of the fire building. If the building has a bulkhead door it may be secured with locking mechanisms such as dead bolts. Remember the staircase is the most common vertical artery in the building. The preferred method is to use an Aerial Device, Ground ladder, Attached building or fire escape. Most fire escapes access the roof in the rear of the structure via the gooseneck ladder. If using the aerial device, remember to place the ladder with the objective in mind and have at least 5 rungs of the ladder above the roof line. Having the ladder 5 rungs above will ensure a smooth transition to the roof as well as a reference point for the firefighters operating on the roof. Be aware of any wires or overhead obstructions, Firefighters have been killed when their equipment came in contact with overhead powerlines.

Prior to making the transition to the roof system the members must ensure the stability of the roof. Remember to place all tools and equipment on the roof prior to transitioning to the roof. This will avoid the shift of equipment and the firefighter being pulled back to the ladder or off the roof. Fire officers and firefighters must be aware of any temporary repairs to the roof. Be aware of the firefighter’s trap which is a repair where a thin layer of roofing paper covers a hole. Once the roof team arrives on the roof, they should immediately conduct a 360-degree roof size up and identify their escape route (remember you always ensure 2 ways off the roof). The roof officer should remain in contact with the incident commander reporting conditions such as; size and shape of roof and any setbacks. Report any heavy live or dead loads. Report any shafts that could allow vertical fire spread. If the structure displays a bulk head the door it must be forced immediately to check for victims. If the bulkhead displays a skylight it should be ventilated to relieve the buildup of pressure and mushrooming of products of combustion on the upper floors.

All above tasks must be completed prior to making the ventilation opening. If the location and extent of fire is on the top floor or the fire has entered the cockloft roof ventilation will be required. The roof division should vent any vertical openings such as; skylight and dumbwaiter shafts. A roof team member should report to the front parapet wall and ventilate any top floor windows. The roof member can use a 6-foot hook or a halligan bar secured to a rope. The roof member should lower the halligan and measure the rope, at this point pull the rope up and throw the tool straight out while holding the rope. The tool will swing back into the window and hopefully break the window. By ventilating the front windows, it will assist with search and hoseline advancement for the interior division. At this point in the roof operations the ventilation hole will need to be cut. Prior to conducting roof ventilation, the fire officer should insure that these basic rules are being followed. The proper location of the ventilation hole must be selected, usually directly over the fire; however, ensure roof stability prior to making the cut. Mark and plan the roof cut and advise crew of location of the cut. Keep the wind at your back and identify any exposure issues.

NEVER CUT A VENTILATION HOLE THAT BLOCKS YOUR ESCAPE ROUTE. Cut adjacent to the joists for maximum support of the working area. The members operating on the roof that are not involved with the roof cut should keep out of range of the saw operator and the saw operator should never walk around with the saw running. (keep the blade on the roof). A few tips to remember are to place knock out holes to assist in pulling the cut. The roof division should report to the incident commander when roof ventilation is complete. All members should evacuate the roof when the assignment is complete. As you can see there are many tasks that are required by the roof division and it takes a lot of manpower to complete. This assignment is critical to the outcome of fire operations. To lose the roof is to lose the building.