Empty structures that have been abandoned for long periods of time create a dangerous situation when involved in fire. Deterioration and vandalism can cause structural failures quicker than a building that has had upkeep.

Empty structures that have been abandoned for long periods of time create a dangerous situation when involved in fire. Deterioration and vandalism can cause structural failures quicker than a building that has had upkeep.

Many of these structures that have been abandoned for long periods of time create a situation where responding emergency personnel have no idea of the interior layout of these buildings because they have never been inside them or pre-planned them. There are debates on how to respond to fires such as these, offensively or defensively? When is the protection of your staff more important than the property itself? The full answer to that may be a discussion for another article, the quick answer though is easy………When the abandoned building is not really abandoned.

One of the factors a firefighter must take into account while responding to any fire is, are their people in this structure, and if so is this structure a livable space. In other words, we may pull up to a building that we know is occupied but it is too heavily involved for anyone to survive or be in a livable space. The decision to go offensive or defensive and move to offensive will greatly be defined by this.

An abandoned structure, however, does not necessarily make it an empty structure.

Many times these abandoned structures become shelters for transients or homeless looking for a place in out of the weather. On the coldest of evenings even a roof over your head may not be enough to keep a body warm, so in many cases fires are built within these buildings for warmth. When you pull up to a known abandoned building on fire we have to ask ourselves why an unoccupied building, with no electric or gas be on fire? The immediate list of answers is pretty small but one that has to be considered is that it is not an unoccupied building.

This was the scenario on December 3, 1999 when an abandoned Cold Storage Warehouse in Worcester MA was reported to be on fire at 6:13pm. When police officers arrived at the location they were told that a couple had been seen squatting in the building. With this information the firefighters initiated a search of a massive structure.

1 hour and 2 minutes after the first report of the fire, command received the final transmission from the lost crews, “Ladder 2 to command: we’re done….” Three Lieutenants and Three Firefighters lost their lives that night searching for two people who had left the building some 60-90 minutes earlier without reporting the fire. The fire was started when a candle was knocked over.

Knowing the dangers and the odds two firefighters from Rescue 2 went in to conduct a search. Knowing the dangers and the odds two Lieutenants and two Firefighters from Ladder 2 and Engine 3 went in to locate their brothers. The actions of these brave men truly define what a hero is, now more than ever we all need a hero to look up to.