Part 2: Structure Protection Strategies
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Dealing With Conflicts
As more homes are built in wildland/urban interface areas, the situation becomes more complicated, especially when homeowners are operating under false expectations about the nature of structure protection in wildland/urban interface fires.
Several conflicts of perception arise when numerous homes are threatened or are burning. Large fires bring different types of fire protection agencies together, but there are significant differences between wildland and structural firefighters. When they must work together, the differences can result in miscommunication and safety lapses from not knowing what to expect from each other. The video draws attention to the need for both types of agencies to understand each other better.
Other conflicts revolve around the dilemma of attacking the fire or committing resources to protecting homes. This puts more pressure on incident commanders who must make these decisions.
Whenever homes are part of the decision-making, emotions increase. But firefighters must not violate safety principles to protect homes at all costs. No home is worth the life of a firefighter. Nevertheless, larger incidents bring out large numbers of press and politicians to scrutinize activities. They can develop a scorecard mentality about homes lost, without understanding the realities of the fire's behavior or the resources available. In this distracting, pressure-cooker atmosphere, the incident commander must stay focused on the overall big picture, not on individual homes that may not be savable even if available resources are used in this way.
Performing Triage Decisions with Structures
The concept of structure triage was introduced, with its difficult and emotional considerations. This video stresses the importance of structure triage when the fire is large and the resources are limited. Firefighters are reminded that attempting to save a structure under certain conditions is both hopeless and unsafe.
Structures can be placed in three categories that predict the structure's survivability with and without fire protection efforts. It is important that firefighters, their leaders, the public, the press, and the politicians understand how and why triage decisions are made.
Among the triage considerations are questions such as the following: What is the fuel load around the structure? Is the structure itself highly flammable? Can it be mitigated in time and safely? Would mitigating this property mean that your crew would not be able to perform other critical duties? Do you have enough personnel? Is the structure vulnerable to surface fires?
Then there are resource considerations, such as: Do you have enough personnel? Is the proper equipment available? Do you have access to enough water?
Always there are safety considerations: Is the structure and surrounding space defensible? Are adequate safety zones available? Are escape routes available?
The video emphasizes that the best time to make such critical decisions is long before a fire approaches. If homeowners can better understand the factors in a triage decision, especially when the fire season is not underway, they are more likely to have the time and take defensive measures that will increase their home's survivability. The video also stresses the importance of knowing when to abandon a particular structure that just cannot be protected.