We have established that the “use status” of a structure (occupied or abandoned) is NOT a metric by which we should make fire attack decisions. All buildings need to be searched, and it is clear that the mere presence of a fire in a “vacant” structure is evidence that it is (or has recently been) occupied. But what do we do with the knowledge that fires in these structures injure and kill a disproportionately high number of firefighters?
The size up metric we SHOULD be using is structural integrity. Plain and simple, can the involved structure sustain fire attack, or can it not? This is a judgment call, and one that can evolve with the dynamics of the fireground. But when operating in compromised structures it is the most important question. Fire conditions we can change, but the structure we cannot, except for the worse. There are some buildings we simply cannot enter due to imminent collapse. It can be a hard reality to grasp, but true nonetheless.
There are abandoned buildings in many response areas that are barely standing on a good day, much less on fire. The best way to overcome these obstacles is aggressive preplanning. We need to identify these structures before a fire at 2am when our visual and emotional senses are skewed. City leaders need to get serious about knocking them down. But until then, we will go to fires in them. Be ready.