Archive for October, 2015

Connex Castle

Senior Captain T. Paget from Houston (TX) Ladder 46 sent in these photos of a new style construction they recently found in their first due area. Like any great crew should do, they stopped and walked through the structure to check out the unique style of construction.

As you can see from the photos these are intermodal box (connex box) containers used as housing. These are the same containers commonly used in flashover simulators and other live fire training structures.


This particular example is a residential duplex with one family upstairs and one family downstairs. The structure is made up of a total of four boxes. Two boxes are stacked on top of each other on the bravo side of the building, and two are stacked on the delta side. They leave a space in between the two stacks of boxes that is later built out with conventional building materials to make up the main living area and kitchen. The bedrooms and bathrooms are located in the actual connex boxes. There are no windows on the B or D sides and only one small window on the C side. The only way in and out is on the A side. The upper unit does have an attic access and a corrugated metal roof.


Fortunately most of us have a great deal of experience fighting fires in these structures. We know from experience that they can hold in a tremendous amount for fire, and retain a lot of heat. As a result, fire extension via convention between the floors should not be the primary concern. Keep in mind that the bathroom areas would still be an area of concern of vertical extension via convection due to plumbing chases. Fire extension via conduction is however a greater possibility then we would typically find in conventional construction materials. These boxes could easily conduct heat from two different areas of the building (ie: the front bedroom to the back bedroom.)


While you may not have seen this style of constitution in your first due, don’t be surprised it if pops up. It possesses two of the most desirable characteristics in the construction industry; quick and cheap. When speaking with the builder, the crew from Ladder 46 found that there will be as many as 18 of these structures being built in the area within the next 3 months. So be on the lookout for these connex castles.


Privacy Door Latch

Engineer Caleb Eiriksson from Fort Walton Beach (FL) Truck Company 6 sent in these photos and information about overcoming the PEMKO Privacy Door Latch. We have featured a large number of supplemental locks over the years, but we haven’t focused much on this one commonly found in many hotels and dormitories. The PEMKO Privacy Door Latch (PDL) is an extremely basic supplemental lock that can be easily defeated once you have a basic understanding of the lock. Under fire conditions, the PDL would not stand a chance to a properly trained firefighter with a well-placed set of irons. But it’s important to know how to defeat the lock in a less destructive fashion during an automatic fire alarm or service calls we often run in these type occupancy’s. Even when a building representative is available to assist with keys to the room, the PDL would still need to be overcome if it were in the latched position.

A Slim Jim from the vehicle lockout kit is one viable option, It works very well due to the tool being long enough to reach behind the latch and it’s flexible enough to allow the door to completely close when it is in place. The main downfall to using the Slim Jim is that it can’t (and shouldn’t) be carried in your pocket and will not be readily available when needed. Unfortunately, a shove knife is too rigid and too short to defeat the latch.


Open the door until the security latch engages


Slide the Slim Jim through the door and over the top and behind the latch.


Slowly pull the door closed while pulling back on the Slim Jim. This will pull the latch into the closed position. as mentioned earlier, the flexibility of the Slim Jim allows the door to be completely closed with the tool in place. Once the latch is disengaged, the door will open freely.

A more realistic and easier method involves the simple piece of webbing that you should already carry in your pocket.


Open the door until the security latch engages.


Slip the single piece of webbing over the top of the mechanism and pull back through the bottom. This is actually more difficult than it looks, and takes a little practice to perfect.


Slowly pull the door closed while pulling on the webbing. This will pull the latch to the closed position. Using a single piece of webbing will allow the door to close completely and prevents the webbing from getting caught in the jam. Once the latch is disengaged, the door will open freely.


Recently, Truck Company 6 ran into a hotel manager who had a homemade tool he carried to defeat the PDL’s is his particular hotel. It’s a simple piece of flexible metal fabricated into a shape that resembles the number 7. This tool works the same a the Slim Jim option mentioned above, but may be a little long (and unrealistic) to carry routinely in a bunker pocket.

A basic understanding of these style locks is essential to successfully defeating them in non-fire situations.. After working with these locks a bit, and seeing how easy they are to defeat with the proper equipment, Truck Company 6 has added both webbing and a shove knife to the medical bags to prevent from having to run back to the rig when these locks are encountered.