FRIDAY FORUM: Roof SA Part 4 - Shattering the Glass Ceiling

It was dusk, and almost 100 degrees out.  Gaining the roof of this dwelling I found 4 different roof types: Peaked terracotta, Peaked asphalt shingle, Flat tar, and best for last, a 10’ x 12’ section of glass panels (see last frame of video).

The fire got into the attic area requiring extensive roof work.  Between the weather and the complex roof, I was very focused on not getting into trouble. As the job wound down I thought, “let me go to an area of the roof away from the action and take a blow,” deliberately letting my guard down. I stepped over a short wall separating one flat roof section from the next, heard a pop, and then I was falling.  

I had stepped onto a section of roof made entirely of large panes of glass. Thankfully, the entire pane dropped and the frame held, leaving me caught up to my shoulders but not sliced open by shattered glass edges. I was quickly extricated by other members on the roof, thankfully only suffering bruised ribs and bruised pride.

Several lessons. 1: Keep a flexible mind. We create mental models of what we expect reality to be. This roof was another “Black Swan.” I had no concept for a 120 square foot glass roof on a SFD. I remember hearing someone say, “there’s glass,” and wondering what they meant. I simply didn’t have a mental model for a roof made of glass, and it didn’t compute. Too busy to worry about it, I didn't inquire further. Reality is often not as it appears. 

2: Never trust the roof. This occurred an hour into the job. Used to the environment, I had grown complacent about sounding the roof. I took for granted everything was stable, which is never a constant on any roof. Even late in the job, question every step.

3: MOST IMPORTANT: It is never ok to let your guard down on the fireground. I was well aware that I was intentionally lowering my level of protective arousal, in fact I was seeking a “safe” area to do so! Trick is, there is NO safe spot on the fireground.  Not five minutes in. Not five hours in. Let your guard down when you get off shift. No sooner.

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