Posted tagged ‘balloon frame fires’

Thoughts on a Balloon Frame


Our next IRONSandLADDERS author is a Lt. on a truck company in downtown. He has served our city for 28 years and set a great example of being a tradesman to all. Here is some of his thoughts relating to the following video and other thinking points that arise with balloon frame fires.

 Note on the Video: when you click play the video will not show on our site. Click the “Watch on You Tube” link that comes up after clicking the video. If you are not getting the right video click this link


  It’s often said that when fighting a fire in a balloon frame structure, the fire department can do everything wrong and still make a successful hit or we can do everything right and still burn it down. There are many reasons for this: undetected fire in hidden voids and confined spaces (to include the attic), misuse of PPV, and not recognizing the importance of vertical ventilation in these structures to name a few.  The questions that came to mind when I first watched this video:  

– What were the fire and smoke conditions on initial arrival?

– Because of the amount of fire that is showing from behind the chimney when it fell; did the fire start in the chimney chase on the first floor and travel to the attic? If it traveled to the attic could it also have dropped down to the basement?

– Was it the action of a firefighter pulling ceiling on the second floor that caused the backdraft or smoke explosion?

Below is my short list of “Watch-Out Situations” when dealing with balloon frame structures. Some may pertain directly to this video while others may not.  

PPV – Due to the air movement in the hidden voids and confined spaces, to include the attic and basement, consider not using PPV until it’s confirmed that the fire is confined to a room and/ or its contents. Another situation would be the fire that’s confined to the hidden voids and confined spaces; these must be identified and isolated if you are going to stay ahead of the game. 

RECON – The initial arriving truck company needs to RECON the fire floor, the basement and the attic. These structures can be large and are often converted into apartment buildings. The crew that’s deploying the initial attackline may need aide in finding the stairwell that leads to the fire room.

VERTICLE VENTILATION – An attic that has trapped hot smoke and fire gases must be relieved by venting high and on the leeward side when possible. To do otherwise may result in a similar event like the one that played out on this video. I place a high consideration on having the Ladders crew place the aerial to the roof on arrival while the Irons side performs RECON. I would not have considered using PPV.

CHIMNEYS – ALWAYS a concern in a structure where two or more stories of chimney brick were laid 100 years ago and have been subjected to fire conditions. Never mind that the darn thing could fall with a gust of wind due to termites, old and weak mortar and an under-engineered foundation. Keep your eyes up when around these things; safety officers should make this a priority concern.

 The first sentence left out another viable scenario, which is to do everything right and put the fire out. This will make those post fire evening cigars or early morning pancakes all the more tasty……               Lt. Les Chapel 

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