We often hear from companies complaining about being pulled off a roof, that in their opinion was still safe to be operating on. The first question I pose to them is “were you keeping command updated on your progress and roof conditions where you were working?” All too often the answer is no. If we don’t tell command the conditions we are observing from the roof the only thing they have to base decisions on is their view from the ground, which may not provide an accurate interpretation of conditions. Outside of training and building confidence together, prior to the incident, a solid roof report is the single greatest confidence boost we can give to command while on scene. This lets them know that the crews they have working above are paying constant attention to the changing conditions and are making sound decisions to manage risks to both crews working on the roof as well as below.
As with any communications on the fire ground, rooftop reports can be equally beneficial to all members on scene. All communications should be clear and concise to minimize excessive radio use. We typically communicate any hazards found, any requests or needs made to command, and our ventilation status in order to be coordinated with interior attack.
There are certainly other instances where additional reports are warranted. These reports are commonly made in the sequence of landing on the roof, moving to the operational area, the operation itself, returning to the ladder, and lastly, having exited the roof.
The following dialog is a hypothetical situation that gives communication examples as we progress in the following scenario:
Strip Mall Fire
One story, 50 x 200 ft. strip mall, center unit (shoe store) well involved with heavy smoke in mansard.
Ladder 11 is assigned to the roof and Engine 32 is 2 1/2 fire attack to shoe store. Ladder 11 places aerial to the A/B corner, all 4 members land on the roof. Roof is sounded and an inspection cut is made. It is determined to be lightweight, open web construction with a 10-foot-deep common attic that is charged with smoke. “Command form L11, we have lightweight construction with a charged attic, roof is sound.” Ladder 11 determines the need for an additional truck co. “Command from L11, one additional truck company, all saws and 12-foot hooks, L11 will assume rooftop division.” L11 moves across roof sounding and cutting smoke holes as they travel in both the roof and the back side of the mansard parapet. L11 notices heavy smoke in the mansard and fire showing around an HVAC unit that appears to be leaning in. “Command from rooftop,
there is a large HVAC unit 25 feet in from side A that is involved and appears to be falling in. We have heavy smoke in the mansard as well. Recommend withdrawal of units from the shoe store.” L11 determines the shoe store is compromised and will operate over the B1 exposure (Taco Shop). The saws begin cutting and the officer walks to the A side of the building.
“Command from rooftop, my position indicates where the roof is being opened and is sound. Have L7 place secondary ladders here and direct interior attack below.” L7 arrives and positions secondary ladders and requests assignment from rooftop division. “Rooftop to L7, split your company and perform a defensive strip behind L11 and open the mansard.” The shoe store roof has collapsed, the vertical vent and fire attack in the taco shop are making progress. “Command from rooftop, we have had full collapse above shoe store. We have an 8 x 8 vent over B1 and it appears fire attack is making significant progress. L7 is completing a defensive strip and is exposing the mansard, roof is sound. ” The fire is mostly knocked down but L7 discovers a small amount of fire in the mansard, and L11 is low on air. “Command from rooftop, L7 is now rooftop. L11 is exiting the roof, low on air.” L11 is exiting the roof. L7 remains and assumes rooftop. “Command L7 is rooftop, we need a replacement company for L11 and a hose line to the roof for overhauling the mansard. Heat hole and strip are completed.” L11 returns to the ground. “Command from L11, L11 has a PAR and is headed to rehab.”
This is one example of how rooftop communications might be used. However, due to the variety of fires and many variables of a dynamic fire scene, communications will vary. Practice doing simulated communications with your companies and consider the following:
- Construction type
- Fire severity
- Fire location
- Progress of tasks
- Request for resources and needs
Rooftop communications can be simple or complex, but the rooftop has a unique viewpoint that no one else has and can gather intel that can be critical to command in order to apply the correct tactics. This information can be obtained even if vertical ventilation is not performed or warranted. Typically, when roofs fall, they fall in on interior firefighters, not out from underneath them. I believe that sending firefighters to the roof contributes to a safer fire scene. The intel gathered and communication from rooftop companies provides command and interior companies with actual knowledge of what is occurring to the integrity of the structure. Without this intel we are leaving interior firefighters in the dark.
Brian Mattson is a 29-year fire service veteran. Brian has been assigned to a Seattle Fire Truck Company for the last 23 years. He is currently the driver of Ladder 11. Brian has been a fire service instructor for over 2 decades specializing in truck company ops. With an emphasis on vertical ventilation.