Situational Awareness is a critical skill for survival in every aspect of firefighting, but particularly on the roof. Consider the environment: working at height, limited entry/egress, above the fire, questionable structural stability, powerful saws, decreased visibility, the list goes on. There are a lot of ways to get in trouble. These hazards are compounded on walkable roofs, as freedom of movement does not “keep you in your lane” by default.
Today we’re looking at rapidly changing fire and smoke conditions, which can cut off exits, reduce visibility, impair spatial reasoning (your concept of where you think you are in space), compromise structural stability, and generally cause things to go south quickly. At this fire, I ended up downwind with a rapidly advancing fire between me and my two exits (1, window, 2 ground ladder). It was a frigid windy day, and fire seemed to have found every void in the structure. Not a very good place to be.
To prevent yourself from getting into this position, consider the following: 1, make sure you have multiple egress points and constantly monitor to assure the fire has not rendered them useless. 2, be sure to remain between your vent openings and your egress. Even as you cut, try to so from the furthest point away moving back toward your egress. 3, constantly monitor the smoke and fire conditions you observe coupled with the progress of the engines on the fire, through either changes (positive or negative) in the smoke conditions or through radio traffic. 4, slow down. The roof is a thinking man’s game. Don’t just start cutting. If you can’t explain to yourself the reason as to where and why you’re venting, don’t vent.
When conditions change rapidly, consider the following: 1, stay calm. The better you control your arousal, the better decisions you’ll make. 2, if standing, drop to your knees. This is particularly true if smoke conditions shift. Falling off a roof due to smoke disorientation has killed or severely injured numerous firefighters. 3, maintain communication with your team, declaring a Mayday if necessary. 4, work your way to your exit points or an area of refuge.
The hazards faced on the roof are often of a different sort than those encountered inside. Stay vigilant.