Climate Controlled “Storage”

Lt. Todd Hime from Marion County (FL) Station 18 sent in this interesting find they came across while out testing hydrants.


From the outside, it appears to be a straightforward townhome building with a total of 5 two-story units. At the top of the stairs you will find an interesting opening about two to three feet high. As you can see from the photos below, this leads to a 3rd floor “climate controlled storage.” Climate controlled storage is the term the builder used when describing this set-up to the inquisitive crew. However we could certainty see it being used for a child’s play room or even worse case scenario, a child’s bedroom.


Upon closer inspection of the rest of the buildings being completed in this complex the crew found that one of the buildings at least had windows located in the gable of the two end units that may tip us off to the presence of this potential “third floor.” Two of the buildings in this complex (including the one shown here) do not have any windows in the gable.

Apparently, the building code allows for this “climate controlled storage” as long as it does not have permanent steps leading to the floor or include doors to close them off. Since these are townhomes and not apartment buildings, the occupants are free to alter the insides of the units however they like. We wouldn’t put it past a homeowner to retrofit a door to cover this opening once they take ownership of the property. Once a door is covering this opening, it may look like a simple air handler closet.


As we mentioned earlier, this opening is right at the top of the stairs. Any fire or smoke conditions on either floor would quickly fill this space with smoke and heat.


Below are the floor plans from the builders website, with no indication of the “climate controlled storage”.

Floor Plan

A quick aggressive and effective search is essential to increase/ensure the safety/survivability of the occupants in a building experiencing smoke and fire conditions. Unfortunately for us, sometimes building construction and poor choices of the occupants work against us. We must constantly be learning about trends in building construction, and learning the buildings in our first due in order to remain successful on the fireground.


Can Confidence & Advanced Search Class


Valencia College located in Orlando, FL will be hosting the extremely popular class “Can Confidence” on January 29th. This full day class will include the normal 4 hour can class with an additional 4 hours focused on advanced search techniques. The search component will cover proven, realistic search techniques to improve your efficiency and effectiveness on the fire ground. The class will feature a number of Class A fires to ensure students are learning and practicing skills in realistic fire conditions. For additional details and sign up information click here to access the class flyer.


Free Prop

Lieutenant Jordan Samson from Englewood (OH) submitted this simple and cheap (ie: free) thru-the-lock prop. He and Andy Zumberger put it together in less than one hour. It was made with a scrap 2×6 and a bunch of donated locks from local hardware stores. The purpose of the prop is to demonstrate the inner workings of various locking mechanisms. Labels were created to make sure everyone knew the proper names for each style of lock.


This simple and free prop is useful when reviewing or introducing thru-the-lock techniques to new or inexperienced members.



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Cancel the Engine

We are sure this video is going to make its rounds on the Internet. At this point we don’t know much about it other than it’s from Bellerose Terrace NY. Judging by the names on the coats, we are guessing it’s Floral Park FD. We already know that many people have taken exception to the lack of SCBA use during entry. We could also make an argument to leave the building sealed up until the water can was ready to go. However, we are not here to throw stones, lets use this video to discuss the effectiveness of the water can. In this instance it appears that the Truck Company (without water) arrived ahead of the Engine Company. This could happen in any city in the world. Even if your Truck Company carries water, it could have been a Chief’s buggy that arrived on scene first. For that very reason, EVERY VEHICLE THAT HAS FIRE DEPARTMENT MARKINGS SHOULD HAVE A WATER CAN! We can show up on scene and do nothing, or we can at least slow the forward progress of the fire. We are the fire department and that’s what people expect, regardless of the vehicle we show up in!

As demonstrated in the video, the water can works! Every firefighter should be Properly Trained on how to efficiently and effectively use the water can. We are professionals and should know more about this essential piece of Fire Department equipment… It’s a lot more than just P.A.S.S.

We have always been advocates of the water can. In the hands of a well trained firefighter, the can will put out a tremendous amount of fire.


Keyed Vise Grips

Engineer Brandon Daniel from Kannapolis (NC) Fire Department send in these photos of his modified vise grips. As you can see from the photo, he made two simple modifications to the vise grips that make the tool more versatile.



The first is replacing the set screw with a threaded eye bolt. This modification not only makes the eye bolt easier to manipulate with a gloved hand, it also serves as an attachment point for webbing when using the vise grips to stabilize a padlock when cutting with the rotary saw. The other modification was welding a key tool to the handle of the vise grips. This ensures that the key tool is always readily available when utilizing thru-the-lock techniques. Its worth mentioning that may be beneficial to make the tip of the key tool a bit more slender about 3/16″ or so to ensure it fits inside the lock sufficiently to manipulate the mechanism.


Keynote Presentation and Leadership Classes


Jimm Walsh will be heading to the 23rd Annual North Country New Hampshire Emergency Services Conference on November 13-15, 2015 at the North Conway Grand Hotel in North Conway, New Hampshire.
He will not only have the pleasure of of facilitating two of his popular Leadership classes, he will also be giving the Conference’s Keynote Address titled Responding with Passion, Purpose, and Pride.

The conference is sponsored by Littleton Regional Healthcare in conjunction with New Hampshire State Fireman’s Association. Additional details about the conference can be found by clicking here. Online registration is available here.

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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.


Extending Your Hand, Not Your Tool

Searching with a tool is something that every firefighter needs to be proficient in. Unfortunately, like many of the essential fireground skills we must master, most fire schools do not teach real world search techniques. In particular, they don’t cover how to effectively search with a tool. One of the things we must consider when sweeping with the tool is that the tool has no feeling. It transmits to the firefighter the sensation of coming in contact with an object, but it gives no indication of what the object really is. This forces the firefighter to reach out further, potentially coming off of the wall, to verify what the tool struck. Besides the fact that this takes additional time, it could also cause significant, if not fatal damage to the very victim we are trying to save. A simple drill to illustrate this point would be to search for a large piece of fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, etc.) Perform this search blacked out, swinging a tool as you search. As you can imagine, you will certainly find the melon, but more than likely speared it or beat it up in the process. It could be argued that sweeping with the non-working end of the tool may minimize the damage to the victim (or melon) but perhaps there is a better way.


Lets start off with discussing which hand you carry the tool in when you search. for this method it is best to carry the tool in the hand of the direction of the search pattern. Left hand search pattern = carry tool in left hand, right hand search pattern = carry the tool in your right hand. This places the tool against the wall, and minimizes the desire to swing and sweep into the room with the tool. When the searching firefighter feels the need to “extend” the search and sweep out into the room , the tool is paced against the wall and the firefighter places their foot on the tool.


As you can see from the pictures below, the firefighters reach into the room is the exact same regardless if the foot was on the wall and tool swept into the room or if the tool was placed on the wall and the firefighter stretched out into the room.



Another thing worth mentioning is that simple act of constantly swinging the tool out into the room actually contributes to firefight fatigue. It takes more energy to swing the tool back and forth than it would to just crawl with it.

Like everything else in the fire service, there is a time and a place were certain techniques should be used over another. This technique may or may not work well for you, but you will only know that after you take the time to train with it. Just keep in mind, when performing a search, you are looking for a viable human life in a very time sensitive manner. It is our duty to master the skill of the search and be able to complete the search in the most time sensitive (and least fatal way) possible.

In our next post we will build on this concept an show some additional things we should consider when performing this type of search.


Carrying Tools

We have always been advocates of riding assignments and tool assignments. It’s one of the easiest ways to improve your company’s efficiency and effectiveness on the fireground. Even if your department doesn’t believe in tool assignments, you probably find yourself carrying the same tools on most occasions. How much thought have you put into how you carry your tools? Do you carry them the same way every time? Are you truly maximizing how you carry them, and making it easier on yourself?

Below are some photos of an efficient method of carrying the tools assigned to the outside team on the Truck Company. In these photos you’ll see that the firefighter is carrying the most often needed tools for the outside team: ladder, hook, halligan, light, TIC, and saw.

Below is a photo of a tool assignment for a residential structure. You’ll notice this method allows for a “free hand” to utilize a TIC for additional recon. The TIC is extremely helpful for the outside team to read the building and determine the fires location if its not already vented from a window.


Below are photos of a tool assignment for a commercial structure. In this case the “free hand” is taken up carrying the saw. The TIC is still available for recon since its clipped on the air pack, but obviously the saw would need to be lowered to the ground first.



The trick with this particular carry method is how the halligan and hook are laid inside the beam of the ladder. This allows one hand to “clamp” the tools to the ladder, and essentially allows you to carry three tools in one hand. The beauty of this method is that once you get to the area where the ladder will be deployed, the hook and halligan can easily be dropped without fumbling around. Allowing the ladder to be thrown from the carry position without being lowered to the ground. Dropping the tools in the area of where the butt of the ladder will be once the ladder is in position will prevent you losing them in high grass situations. Keep in mind that the utilization of straps or clips to secure the tool would make this option a little more time consuming.

It is worth mentioning that this method works best with ladders that are stored on beam. This allows you to partially remove the ladder, place your tools on the inside of the beam, and then get your shoulder in position before taking on the weight of the ladder. Specifying your rig correctly also increases your fireground efficiency, but we’ll get into those specifics in a future post.


Even if this is not your choice of tools for your assignment, take the time to come up with the most efficient way to carry your tools. Keep in mind that having a free hand whenever possible gives you the most versatility for the unexpected situation or occasional need for a specific tool. We’d love to see (and show off) some of your tool carrying setups, email us at with some photos and details.


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