First Person Firefighter
July 30, 2012 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Ever wonder what it would be like to experience what a firefighter sees? Here's a helmet cam of working inside a burning building. [slyt]
posted by quin (64 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I didn't catch - why did he leave the building? Also, is it normal for the fire to be so resistant to all that water?
posted by fremen at 5:51 AM on July 30, 2012


I love the Youtube comments to the effect of "I think you missed a bit there". The video does seem to bring home the danger of being hit on the head by bits of collapsing building.
posted by rongorongo at 5:54 AM on July 30, 2012


is it normal for the fire to be so resistant to all that water?

Note the presence of "fight" in the job title.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:55 AM on July 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Going to play this on the big TV tonight while I stand in front of it with my son's XBox controller.
posted by hal9k at 5:55 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has anyone ever made a first-person firefighter game? Where you might use a fire ax so you can chop open a wall, then switch to the hose and blast the hell out of the fire that's shooting up in your face? And for the challenge mode you have to do it all with a portable handheld extinguisher?

Five minutes ago I never would've thought I'd be interested in that.
posted by echo target at 5:58 AM on July 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I hope they didn't have any cats.
posted by item at 5:59 AM on July 30, 2012


Hell yeah there's a game like this: Brave Firefighters.
posted by resurrexit at 6:00 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Pro-tip: spray the "bottom" of the fire, not the flames.)
posted by resurrexit at 6:01 AM on July 30, 2012


Damn, that's one intense job, right there. Firefighters have all my respect.

I can see the allure, though. How incredibly satisfying it must be, to put out a fire like that. I think I'd feel a sense of accomplishment, for sure!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:02 AM on July 30, 2012


Also, my dad's a firefighter and he'd come home when I was a kid with bad burns from things falling on him or from gear coming loose while dragging someone (usually a fellow firefighter) from a fire. As kids, it was like, 'meh' or 'cool'--now I'm just glad he's alive.

Just the physicality of what they do--if you've ever worn bunker gear--in Texas--while soaking wet--and around you is all on fire or recently was--or had more than one serious structure fire in one day or night--mad props to the firefighters out there.
posted by resurrexit at 6:04 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, bunker gear and the SCBA (the air system) can weigh more than 75 lbs all together.
posted by bonehead at 6:13 AM on July 30, 2012


is it normal for the fire to be so resistant to all that water?

You have to put the water in the right place. A little water on a lot of fire just gets boiled away, then the fire goes back to what it was doing. The nooks and crannies of an interior can make it hard to put the water on the seat of the fire, and the charged hoseline doesn't help. Also, an indirect attack can precede direct attack, to manage heat near the ceiling and get the crew close enough for direct.

why did he leave the building?

He may have left the building due to being rotated out by another FF or getting low on air.
posted by maniabug at 6:14 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, charged hoseline doesn't help with moving around....
posted by maniabug at 6:17 AM on July 30, 2012


As a career firefighter, my immediate reaction was that the flames are remarkably visible and contained throughout the video. Very often you find yourself in dense smoke with perhaps six inches visibility (with a powerful flashlight), trying to maintain a mental map of where you are in the labyrinth of someone else's house, searching for something you can feel but not see. The kind of work they're doing for most of the video is actually late-stage mop-up, rather than the most extreme conditions you might encounter when you first open the door.
posted by itstheclamsname at 6:20 AM on July 30, 2012 [31 favorites]


A bunch of videos like this could be the best fire safety education ever. "no, really, fire will FUCK THINGS UP IN YOUR HOME."
posted by rmd1023 at 6:31 AM on July 30, 2012


...and what the fire doesn't fuck up, the thousands of gallons of water gushing down the insides of the walls and pooling in the basement will take care of pretty well.
posted by echo target at 6:41 AM on July 30, 2012


Has anyone ever made a first-person firefighter game? Where you might use a fire ax so you can chop open a wall, then switch to the hose and blast the hell out of the fire that's shooting up in your face? And for the challenge mode you have to do it all with a portable handheld extinguisher?

Five minutes ago I never would've thought I'd be interested in that.


Quick Look: Real Heroes: Firefighter.

There's some other games which also include the concept, to varying degrees.
posted by kmz at 6:43 AM on July 30, 2012


Has anyone ever made a first-person firefighter game?

The reality of a working fire is such that I suspect accurately modeling the utter, living anarchy would overwhelm even the most "open-ended" game engines/mechanics/worlds. Accurately modeling the dynamics of a fire would probably be akin to building the most advanced enemy AI evar.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:44 AM on July 30, 2012


As someone who gets twitchy when a cupboard door isn't sitting right, this video was one wince after another. Oh god they just hosed the drywall completely off the ceiling. Oh god they just bashed an opening through that wall. Oh god all that water is going to be all over the carpet and furniture and appliances.

I know! I know the fire is doing MUCH MORE DAMAGE and the house will be totally rebuilt with insurance money. I still cringed. This is why I could never be a firefighter. Well, that and the physical cowardice.
posted by Ritchie at 6:48 AM on July 30, 2012



I fought wildland fires. I loved it, but it was very hard work.

Structure fire fighting is a whole nother level of crazy, though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:50 AM on July 30, 2012


Accurately modeling the dynamics of a fire would probably be akin to building the most advanced enemy AI evar.

It's a living thing. It breathes, it eats, and it hates.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:50 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a co-op board game where you're firefighters in a building, but I don't think that quite captures the, uh, realness.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:52 AM on July 30, 2012


It's a living thing. It breathes, it eats, and it hates.

DeNiro was the worst part of that movie. Firefighters respect the living hell out of the fire, but they don't get all Yoda about it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:54 AM on July 30, 2012


My son had a very instructive visit to a local fire station when he was about 12. We'd caught him and a couple of friends playing with aerosol cans and matches to make "flame throwers." This was after several other fire-related capers and reasoning with them, threatening them, etc., just wasn't working (I admit to remembering myself how irresistible matches and fire can be), so I and one of the other mothers decided a trip to the fire station was in order.

It was July in North Carolina. Steaming hot. We pulled up to the fire station and approached a couple of fire fighters busy organizing gear on one of their trucks. At first they thought it was a standard let's-go-visit-the nice-fire-fighters visit. We explained that we felt the boys needed a deeper understanding of the potential dangers and why.

The boys were asked to sit on the front fender of the truck and then received a very respectful but firm lecture. They learned the basic cost of answering a call-- whether it was for a serious fire or just for small fires made through carelessness. They learned about what an exploding aerosol can do to a person. They learned what is entailed in treating a severe burn and saw some scars. All the while the fire fighters were friendly and respectful, but very, very clear.

Then they asked the boys if they'd like to see what it's like to respond to an alarm. I'm not sure any of the kids actually wanted to, but they all nodded. So each one of them was suited up in turn-out gear with an oxygen tank, hood, mask and heavy boots. They were instructed on why this gear was necessary and then sent into the building to find an imaginary fire. In the dark. On hands and knees.

When they came back out they were dripping in sweat from the heat and the weight of the equipment. The fire fighters got them out of the gear, gave them water and cookies and kept an eye on them for a few minutes to make sure they were okay.

We said thank you and drove home, listening to accusations of child abuse and how truly awful we were as parents. Then the silence started and my son did not speak to me for the rest of the day.

There were no further fire incidents, so far as I know. Of course I like to think that was the end of their exploits though I know they may have just gotten more canny about it. Either way, my son has never forgotten that day-- and has even told me it was the right thing to do.

Fire fighters are awesome.
posted by idest at 6:58 AM on July 30, 2012 [45 favorites]


There was an awful lot of visibility compared to most of the interior fire attacks I've been on. It looks as if the building was ventilated ahead of the attack team entering the building, which may also account for the volume of flame they encountered. Often, especially with the way most houses are sealed these days, fire will enter a very smoky smoldering stage due to lack of oxygen and you time your ventilation to coincide with the interior attack. The downside is, of course, much less visibility and the potential for flashback. That potential is higher if ventilation is delayed, which happens a lot when departments are short-handed (as many are). It's also often given lower priority to search for victims and fire attack, so attack crews many times do their own ventilation as they advance through the building.

I fought wildland fires. I loved it, but it was very hard work.

Structure fire fighting is a whole nother level of crazy, though.


I can't imagine doing wildland firefighting. I've never had a building fire chase after me or that consumed more than the building it started in.
posted by tommasz at 7:04 AM on July 30, 2012


Maybe I'm being ignorant here but if a McMansion catches fire and poses no threat to the buildings in adjacent lots, why not let the fire burn itself out in a controlled environment? Was there a particular reason why the men had to go inside with hoses or is that SOP?
posted by jsavimbi at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2012


Maybe I'm being ignorant here but if a McMansion catches fire and poses no threat to the buildings in adjacent lots, why not let the fire burn itself out in a controlled environment? Was there a particular reason why the men had to go inside with hoses or is that SOP?

Fire departments don't make value judgements on the homes. Priority #1 is life safety. If there is any doubt about whether someone is inside an interior attack is made along with multiple searches. Priority #2 is protection of property. If it can be done safely, an interior attack will be attempted, only resorting to an exterior attack if conditions change (building integrity, volume of fire, etc.).

Please note that "safely" means "with a reasonable expectation that firefighters will not be seriously injured or killed". This probably is not everyone's definition, obviously.
posted by tommasz at 7:28 AM on July 30, 2012


if a McMansion catches fire

Haha! This reminds me of a song I wrote!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:29 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, bunker gear and the SCBA (the air system) can weigh more than 75 lbs all together.

I'm a bit confused. The Chicago firefighters I've talked to talk about "turnouts", not "bunker gear" -- is this is the same thing?
posted by eriko at 7:43 AM on July 30, 2012


Maybe I'm being ignorant here but if a McMansion catches fire and poses no threat to the buildings in adjacent lots, why not let the fire burn itself out in a controlled environment?

We'll never adopt a "let it burn" philosophy because hey, it's someone's home, but McMansions represent a distinct threat due to recent changes in construction methods and materials. I have a harder time stoking up my fireplace than some of these houses have in transforming from "a few flames licking up off a back deck" to completely-engulfed bonfires. With this in mind, some departments are retuning their tactics to reflect that we value life over property. We're far more likely to start by lobbing in water from outside a structure like that, to darken down the fire before starting an inside attack. I'd bet that this video includes some significant time gaps between the edits, and that's exactly what crews did between the shots of the outside of the house and the interior work.

Another reason we won't just let it burn is that insurance might rebuild a structure, but it can't replace treasured belongings. My department will protect possessions whenever possible, even during firefighting efforts. I've helped bring photos out of a house before the fire was even fully extinguished, but that's something of a luxury depending on where the fire's located and how much danger it represents to us. We'll also, for example, throw tarps over furniture and stack belongings to protect them from water and falling bits of ceiling even as crews are using hoselines in the floor above. Yes, they'll likely have an extensive process of rebuilding, but I think most people can cope with that as long as their keepsakes are intact.
posted by itstheclamsname at 7:47 AM on July 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Maybe I'm being ignorant here but if a McMansion catches fire and poses no threat to the buildings in adjacent lots, why not let the fire burn itself out in a controlled environment? Was there a particular reason why the men had to go inside with hoses or is that SOP?

Does this thought only apply if the house is one you dislike? Is it alright for firefighters to save a multifamily house full of poor people? I can see an argument for not saving property (I'd disagree given the extremely important role that having a house plays in most people's lives), but phrasing it as "McMansion" makes it sound like it's only this sort of house that you're happy to see burn.

I'm also not sure I'd call the house in the video a McMansion, it looks like a fairly standard suburban house, but it's hard to tell.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:48 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


itstheclamsname, I'm sure I'm not alone in finding your comments (from an actual firefighter!) in this thread to be immensely interesting. Thanks so much, and I hope you'll share more with us, if you have the time and inclination.

I'm also not sure I'd call the house in the video a McMansion, it looks like a fairly standard suburban house

Haven't the lines between the two gotten a little blurred?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:54 AM on July 30, 2012


I'm a bit confused. The Chicago firefighters I've talked to talk about "turnouts", not "bunker gear" -- is this is the same thing?

Yes, the two terms are used interchangeably (there might be some regional thing going on, though). I often refer to my coat as a "turnout coat" but the pants as "bunker pants". Part of that may be because I started before bunker pants were commonly used.
posted by tommasz at 7:58 AM on July 30, 2012


Maybe I'm being ignorant here but if a McMansion catches fire and poses no threat to the buildings in adjacent lots, why not let the fire burn itself out in a controlled environment? Was there a particular reason why the men had to go inside with hoses or is that SOP?
You're not being ignorant, you're being an elitist douche by suggesting that a certain class of house should just be allowed to burn. That's a whole different crime. Did you look at what's on the walls? Those are family pictures, some of which (if it was my family) would be irreplaceable prints of long-dead or long-lost family members (and even full branches of family). Yes, we have digital scans of them. That doesn't replace a 1880's daguerrotype.
I didn't catch - why did he leave the building? Also, is it normal for the fire to be so resistant to all that water?
Right around 2:10, you'll note DAYLIGHT coming up through the floor of the second story of the structure. If you were listening to the radio chatter closely, they were ordered out, but I didn't catch why. I think that they could get water on the remaining portions of the fire without endangering the lives of the firefighters, especially considering that the roof had been fully involved when the first truck on scene pulled up and was probably in danger of collapsing.

Yes, it's normal for the fire to be resistant to the water. The water's mainly used to "knock down" the fire, as opposed to put it out. The water temporarily replaces the oxygen that the fire is burning, but that's temporary. Think about a charcoal grill -- you were in the hot, white coals phase here. Not only does the water just flash to steam, but the thing that's burning is still over the temperature where it'll burst back into flames unless you put a LOT of water on it and you get the water inside of every chunk of the hot coals. In the case of something like a typical bedroom dresser, this means pulling out the drawers and clothes. If you've got thick, heavy furniture (like a 4x4 bedpost), that's been burning for more than a few minutes, they basically have to smash it to get the fire out of it completely.
There was an awful lot of visibility compared to most of the interior fire attacks I've been on. It looks as if the building was ventilated ahead of the attack team entering the building, which may also account for the volume of flame they encountered.
The ventilation looked like it was, again, because the roof was half to mostly involved before the first truck pulled up. If it was in Texas, that would've been a small volunteer outfit that would be first responding, (usually at least 15 minutes from tones to first truck) and would call in mutual aid to get tankers and another engine or two from the city (so another 15-30 minutes until they had enough water to do more than piss on it unless there was a convenient swimming pool). My guess is that they quickly cleared the building of anyone inside, and then kept the perimeter and roof wet (note the large areas of burnt grass on the outside of the structure in the last few seconds of the video) while they waited for more volunteers, mutual aid, and sufficient water to make an interior attack. Unfortunately, that'd allow plenty of time to ventilate the structure just from convection, and that fire was burning clean and hot by the time they did make the interior attack.

I'm not a professional firefighter, but I am a member of our citizen's fire auxillary and have been through citizen's fire academy, which did include in my city a bunch of time in bunker gear crawling around in simulated buildings and putting out fires. Which was pretty damned awesome. I can't volunteer for the victims' assistance crew like I used to because my life has taken me out of the community I established my volunteering in for extended periods of time now (our FD dispatches a volunteer to every house fire to act as a shoulder to cry on, to provide basic comfort items like blankets, sandals, robes, and help interfacing with the Red Cross and other organizations so that they have a roof over their head that night) but I've seen a lot of house fires from the outside.
posted by SpecialK at 8:04 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


McMansions represent a distinct threat due to recent changes in construction methods and materials. I have a harder time stoking up my fireplace than some of these houses have in transforming from "a few flames licking up off a back deck" to completely-engulfed bonfires.
Yeah, this is actually one of the main reasons for the push for residential fire sprinkler systems, which may appear in the next IRC as a requirement for new construction (if cities aren't already adopting the requirement on their own.) The new building technologies (reduced wood framing, lots of composite woods using wood chips or dust with a flammable glue binder, lighter and less fire resistant drywall, extremely tightly sealed houses resulting in flash fires as soon as ventilation happens, lots of materials like closed-cell spray foam that can trap oxygen and give off lots of toxic fumes) are probably not going to go away any time soon because of the gains in energy efficiency and MUCH lower total cost of ownership to the homeowner.
posted by SpecialK at 8:16 AM on July 30, 2012


changes in construction methods and materials.

The engineered plywood trusses used in new construction (especially townhomes) in my area are especially scary. I guess they are theoretically coated or impregnated with some sort of fire retardant, but in practice that seems to not even counteract all the crazy plastic glue they're made with. And the design has inherently more surface area for the amount of structural cross-section. They seem intrinsically less safe to me.

Installed with sprinklers I suspect they're fine, but used as a drop-in replacement for 2x12s they seem like a really bad idea.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2012


I just wanted to say that I have incredible respect for firefighters and I really appreciate their work. Firefighting is the one profession I can think of where people regularly put their lives on the line in the normal course of their job, while doing nothing but trying to help people. They've also always been really nice guys/gals whenever I've had the chance to talk to them. Thanks, firefighters.
posted by Scientist at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ohhhhhh. Thanks for this. I never really understood some of the damage we had in our house fire 5 years ago until I saw this. I had always thought it was crazy that sections of drywall had burned off while leaving the drywall of the next room perfectly white and unburned. I had no idea that the water just blasted through the drywall like that and that's why there were holes.

Also, the firefighters kept telling us that they tried to minimize water damage and not spray in the attic too much but they had to spray the attic in order to be sure the fire was completely out. Which implies that other people have complained that the fabulous firefighters with their wonderful fire-putting out hoses caused too much water damage? Really? They apologized for chopping down the door, too. Do people fuss about crap like that? At the FIREFIGHTERS?? The correct response is, "Chop and hose away, fine sir, and thank you very much."
posted by artychoke at 9:32 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


In a fire, the bulk of load-bearing material translates into time available before structural collapse. The thinness and high surface area-to-volume ratio of engineered lumber cuts down that time. I think I remember reading you get basically 20 minutes inside a modern home before the attack goes defensive.

The further problem with trusses is that they achieve their material-saving advantage by concentrating load on the joints. One failed joint is likely to overload another, resulting in quick failure of the entire truss unit. Exacerbating this is the pound-on steel gusset plates often used to hold joints together. These plates expand when exposed to heat, their teeth pop free of the wood, and there goes the joint. When one joint fails like this in a fire, the others nearby will have been weakened by the same process, so a large collapse could happen very quickly with no warning.
posted by maniabug at 9:33 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a house fire that happened a few blocks from us last December.

Firefighters were there very quickly - there's a firehouse literally around the corner - but had a hard time accessing the outside parts of the house because everything is so packed together. Overheard electrical and cable wires meant they couldn't use ladders.

We watched six firefighters carry a very heavy-looking extending ladder to the building second to the right of the house on fire, and then a couple of them climbed it, climbed over to the house on fire, and started chopping holes in the roof (that's why you can see the flames in the photo - most of the fiery fire was at the back of the house and not visible from the street). The smoke was terrible, full of the smell of burning plastic and god knows what else.

Living as we do in a densely packed urban area, where most of the houses are made of wood, I know I'm not the only person in my neighborhood who feels nothing but gratitude for the firefighters.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on July 30, 2012


I so very much want to watch this video, but I'll have to do it when I'm not at work.

My father was a Captain in the NYFD. We lived in Brooklyn at the time, but his station was (I believe) in Manhattan. When I was a child, I really had no idea how much danger my father was experiencing every day, but I knew that he saved people, and that made me proud. He would occasionally take us to the station to see the guys when he had time off (and yes, we did slide down the pole). When I was older, he told me about the really frightening things that would happen during a fire, not just the fire, but the booby traps, and the people who would throw things at them when they were trying to save lives and property. My father was eventually hurt by a booby trap, which led to his retirement from the NYFD. We moved from Brookly and lived in Florida for many years before his death (fuck you, cancer), but no matter what job he had, he was a firefighter at heart. It was 24 years after his retirement that he passed, but there were firefighters at his funeral. Some that knew him, and some that only knew that he was one of them. It's a bond that doesn't break.

I will watch this video, and honor my father with more tears.
posted by blurker at 10:00 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're not being ignorant, you're being an elitist douche by suggesting that a certain class of house should just be allowed to burn.

Really? Yes, I suggested that certain houses be allowed to burn. And with good reason and what I wrote was: Was there a particular reason why the men had to go inside

In the video I see an unattached single-family dwelling on fire, and outside of their barn-sized garage there is no other structure at risk of catching and spreading fire. Smoke damage alone with make all those sacred family tchotchkes unsalvageable, never mind the heat from the fire of the men blasting away with the hoses. This location not a city where a grease fire can wipe out an entire block or more.

It's a complete loss and not worth the risk of sending someone in outside of verifying occupant safety. Personal belongings, including priceless daguerrotypes can be easily replaced, but I highly doubt you'd be able to sell your I'm not a professional firefighter routine to some kid whose dad didn't come home because he was trapped while saving someone else's perishables.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:18 AM on July 30, 2012


Some that knew him, and some that only knew that he was one of them. It's a bond that doesn't break.

So true. My dad and others from his department spent a week or so in NY after 9/11 just going in uniform to firefighters' funerals to pay their respects and to make up for the large number of guys who would otherwise be there but were (1) dead (2) in the hospital or (3) working.
posted by resurrexit at 10:18 AM on July 30, 2012


That one guy was totally camping.
posted by Kabanos at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a complete loss and not worth the risk of sending someone in outside of verifying occupant safety. Personal belongings, including priceless daguerrotypes can be easily replaced, but I highly doubt you'd be able to sell your I'm not a professional firefighter routine to some kid whose dad didn't come home because he was trapped while saving someone else's perishables.

Plenty of personal belongings cannot be replaced. Pictures, beloved childhood stuff animals, mementos from trips and events. I'm not saying it's worth it to place people's lives at serious risk to save property, but firefighters are people who, by definition, have said "there is some risk to my life that is worth it to save other people's lives and possessions" and since they're the experts I'd leave that decision to them. I also assume that the question of whether or not the house/possessions are a total loss plays into that decision and, once again, they're in a better position to make that decision that you.

It looks like firefighting, while dangerous, doesn't lead to that many deaths. It doesn't rank in the top ten in terms of most dangerous professions. So, I assume that firefighters are generally pretty good at making decisions about protecting themselves. Considering that the other professions that people tend to die doing include fishing and logging, saving people's possessions also seems like a relative laudable goal.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:47 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


not just the fire, but the booby traps, and the people who would throw things at them when they were trying to save lives and property.

Wait, what? What sort of traps await firefighters who are there trying to put out a fire? What people are actively trying to allow a building to burn down, so much as to impede the efforts of others?
posted by CancerMan at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


they're in a better position to make that decision that you

Hence my question why not let the fire burn itself out in a controlled environment? which I believe itstheclamsname was able to answer without resorting to insults and chest-thumpin' hero worship.

Please accept my standard non-apology for using the term McMansion which is exactly what the property in question is called, pejorative or not. I live in a triple-decker, warts and all, and I don't have any other term at hand by which to call it because that's what it is.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:06 AM on July 30, 2012


I never insulted you or engaged in hero worship, so I assume those comments aren't directed at me. All I said was that firefighters are trained professionals (or trained volunteers) who know what they're doing; I'd also point out that when an actual professional firefighter explained to you why going into the house was an acceptable risk you persisted in explaining why it wasn't.

Please accept my standard non-apology for using the term McMansion which is exactly what the property in question is called, pejorative or not.

There's no non-pejorative use of the word McMansion; that's fine, it's an insult, but you don't get to use an insult and then say "that's really what it's called." You clearly meant it as a pejorative, otherwise there's no reason to say anymore than "unattached house." The logic that the fire couldn't spread applies equally to unattached farmhouse or any number of modest suburban homes that are unattached because they're in the fucking suburbs where people have unattached houses.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:24 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Can we move this in a less fighty direction? I'm really curious to hear more about the booby traps (!!!) blurker was talking about.
posted by awenner at 11:29 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I never really understood some of the damage we had in our house fire 5 years ago until I saw this.

I wish we had a pamphlet we could put in homeowners' hands after a fire that would help explain some of the damage that can be done during normal firefighting efforts. I hate to think that homeowners think we were reckless or showed no regard for their home, but some of the things we do may seem nonsensical and almost unrelated to putting water on a fire.

"Dear homeowner, in the course of fighting a fire in your home, we were compelled to do some or all of the following. We may have damaged doors and frames when we entered and searched the house. Window latches or panes may be broken, and screens torn or pushed out if we needed to ventilate the house and prevent the buildup of heat. In extreme cases, we may have cut a hole in your roof for the same reason. We may have punched holes in drywall and ceiling, and removed exterior siding in areas that are distant from the seat of the fire in order to verify that the fire wasn't spreading behind the walls. Furnishings may have been moved or upset as we dragged charged hoses to reach the fire. We apologize for the damage and hope you understand it was necessary under the circumstances. We hope your repairs go smoothly." Or something. Maybe I'll propose that.
posted by itstheclamsname at 11:37 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


The house in the picture I linked above is still unrepaired and uninhabited. The tarps on the roof, covering the vent holes the firefighters cut, flap in the breeze. I don't know if the residents are fighting with their insurance company or what, exactly; I also don't know what a "normal" amount of time is for repairs/reconstruction to start on a house as badly damaged by fire as this one was.

I'm still impressed by the memory of one firefighter I saw that night; he was on an upper floor, leaning out a window and gesticulating to the firefighters on the street. We could see flames behind him. He made some hand signals (and presumably used the comms system in his helmet?), disappeared for a minute, came back, made some more hand signals, and then went back in. Two firefighters on the sidewalk walked into the house. Except for the smoke and flames and water, the scene could have taken place in my office - "Hey, does anybody know how to change the toner in the new copier?" "Yeah, I do, be right there."
posted by rtha at 11:49 AM on July 30, 2012


I don't know whether this is still the case, but when my father was fighting fires in NYC, there was a whole heck of a lot of arson going on. Sometimes the arsonists were only about burning down the building(s), but sometimes they were trying to injure or kill the firefighters as well.

One of the more common booby traps was to set a long, slow smoldering fire in the basement, but to set a more “visual” fire on one of the upper floors. The firefighters would enter the building, expecting to run upstairs to the fire, when the real danger was the floor beneath them giving way. In my father's case, he and his friend, another captain, entered the building, flanked by their lieutenants, as was protocol, when the floor gave way to a huge inferno. My father’s friend fell to his death. My father was lucky to have fallen only a few feet, straddling a beam, so his lieutenants had him out before the fire could do much damage. (He used to crack a terrible joke about not noticing the fire due to *straddling a beam* at the time. Firemen have unusual and awesome senses of humor – or maybe that was just my Dad.) The fall caused him to tear the cartilage in his knee, which ultimately led to his retirement.

Another nasty story, not so much a booby trap, but an idea of what these folks had to face when trying to get to a fire, was about the cans. Some of you may remember, before pop-top cans, we used to have to open cans with a triangular can opener. Well, occasionally, the assholes in nearby buildings would urinate into a beer can, and, using a can opener, create a series of sharp metal triangles poking out the perimeter of the top of the can. They would then throw this “bomb” from the upper stories to try to hit the firefighters.

Trying to save people’s lives is not always as appreciated as one might expect.
posted by blurker at 11:57 AM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


... Wow.
posted by CancerMan at 12:03 PM on July 30, 2012


I assume those comments aren't directed at me

They were not directed at you, rather at those whose class sensitivities force them to turn a colloquialism into manufactured outrage. I don't think I have to justify myself beyond clicking on the provided links and making a comparison between the structures and what the wiki says it is.

Again, I see no point in risking life and limb for an empty house that will no longer be habitable due to smoke, water and fire damage. Not as the homeowner, responding emergency agencies or private citizens gawking at the blaze.

I cannot fault a person for taking pride in their work or desiring to achieve a higher level of perfection, but at certain point one has to realize that they may be risking their life to save someone's garaged stacks of newspapers and winter clothing, not a nation. There are human along with financial costs in the unnecessary loss of life and my reasoning is it should be avoided.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:08 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It looks like firefighting, while dangerous, doesn't lead to that many deaths.

That tells only part of the story, the on-the-job hazards. Another part is the shortening of life due to on-the-job exposures.

Smoke, soot and other fire residues have high levels of carcinogens, mostly in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Firefighters have long been thought to face higher rates of certain cancers than the general population. In my part of the world, any firefighter with an incidence of cancer, even long after leaving the force, is considered to have had a work-related injury and gets the disability compensation and coverage due.
posted by bonehead at 12:44 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the outside of the house, how do you know if it's filled with garaged newspapers or priceless heirlooms from two hundred years prior?

I see the genesis of your logical argument -- Why fight a fire that isn't worth fighting? But I fail to see where one can rationally draw the line, especially in an emergency situation. Without god like powers of knowing what is inside of a structure on fire, how are they supposed to respond?
posted by cavalier at 12:44 PM on July 30, 2012


priceless heirlooms from two hundred years prior

The last remaining signed copy of the US Constitution is priceless. Everything else is at mercy of a Antiques Roadshow host or a pawn broker and should have no bearing on the result of the action aside from good customer service in the event of their favorable salvage.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:00 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My, you're... something.
posted by cavalier at 1:09 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


my immediate reaction was that the flames are remarkably visible and contained throughout the video.

My guess is the smokey videos don't make for good content.
posted by furtive at 4:12 PM on July 30, 2012


Don't they also need to put the fire out as quickly and efficiently as possible in case of possible arson, so that evidence can be preserved? Or so whatever evidence of whatever started the fire can be preserved? The "let the bourgeois tchotckes burn" argument is frankly absurd imo.
posted by sweetkid at 7:31 PM on July 30, 2012


Finally scraped together the courage to watch the video. Unsurprisingly, I spent most of it scared that the floor would collapse. Thanks for the post, quin; it really means something to see what goes on in there. Not something I could ever do.
posted by blurker at 7:38 PM on July 30, 2012


Metafilter: It's a living thing. It breathes, it eats, and it hates.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 3:27 AM on July 31, 2012


Part what sweetkid said, part what cavalier said. I'm done feeding the troll.

Itstheclamsname:
I wish we had a pamphlet we could put in homeowners' hands after a fire that would help explain some of the damage that can be done during normal firefighting efforts. I hate to think that homeowners think we were reckless or showed no regard for their home, but some of the things we do may seem nonsensical and almost unrelated to putting water on a fire.


This is the purpose of the volunteer team that I am (well, was, since I can't respond) part of. They taught us these things in a once-a-week, four-hour-a-night class for about 9 weeks, and those who graduated from the program and took the tests were offered the chance to become part of a community citizen emergency response program.

Since we had been basically through a miniature version of a full fire academy, we could stand with the family who was losing their house and explain what the firefighters were doing and why and generally keep them out of the way so the fire department could do their job. We'd show up with a suitcase full of blankets, towels, bottled water, spare leashes for pets, a couple of teddy bears for kids, generic sandals, a few items of clothing... Then we helped them with post-fire support interfaces to the red cross and other local/national support groups so that they have a roof over their head that night.

When there's a confirmed residential structure fire, the incident commander will request that dispatch page out the group. There's a rotating on-call schedule and two people on call at any one time. We generally only respond to fires in the city, but occasionally get a request to go out into the county or the several-county area, especially for a multi-family structure. The volunteer group also helps with smoke detector education and other stuff.

So, basically, we're an interactive pamphlet with a suitcase full of goodies. It's really a neat program, and without the extremely expensive and extensive training class, is really cheap to operate. I'm sure that retired firefighters could also fill that role without having to go through the training program; the training program is operated through a grant program for community education.
posted by SpecialK at 1:52 PM on July 31, 2012


Tommasz,

I'm with pogo_fuzzybutt. As a wildland firefighter I can't imagine the horror of having to enter a confined space that's ablaze, where you're trapped by walls, a ceiling that could collapse at any time and god-knows-what chemicals that are tucked under someone's sink, waiting to explode.

Hats off to you and your structural compadres.
posted by Kibby at 9:00 PM on August 16, 2012


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