Ladder company members who are assigned to the roof of a fire building can identify a much different picture than what’s viewed and assumed from the command post side. Simply, “If it looks bad in the front, it could be much worse in the rear.”
Quick rear assessment
As members are sent to work on the roof to perform their assigned duties, one member should be assigned to walk “the rim,” or the perimeter of the roof. While that person does that, the member should look over the side of the building for concerns that can be reported to the incident commander (IC).
Fire/smoke showing other than the command side. Be specific. Avoid vague radio transmissions. It isn’t informative to state that there’s heavy smoke or fire in the rear. Tell the boss what you see and where. “Fire showing from three windows on the top floor in the rear” is better.
Fire/smoke showing in a shared light/air shaft. Again, be specific. It isn’t good enough to state that “it’s heavy in the shaft.” Is it heavy smoke? Heavy fire? “Fire showing in the shaft on the B side” is more informative and useful.
Occupant life hazard. Be observant for people who are hanging out of rear windows or civilians who might have jumped and are laying in the rear yard. Again, be specific. “We have a woman hanging out of the third-floor window in the rear.” This also helps to identify which size ladder is needed to get to the back of the building.
Fire extension in the rear. Fire exiting out of windows and spreading via the combustible exterior siding must be known by the IC. The same goes for fire that’s extending to the rear of the attached exposure buildings via the same means.
Surrounding exposure concerns. In urban areas, departments often experience rows of buildings that share small yards. This can allow fire to spread easily from the rear of one building to the rear of another building on the parallel opposite street.
Structural add-ons. If the original fire building has a structural add-on—meaning that it has a building extension—or if the fire building is irregularly shaped, the IC must know this.
A quick tip: If roof members observe a difference in the level of the roof deck, they probably are looking at some type of structural add-on.
Irregularly shaped buildings. It’s important for roof members to inform the IC when a building extends, including specifics, such as “back an additional 25 feet and wraps around the back of the D exposure.”
Other specifics. The presence of any division/party or parapet walls in the row (state which side or sides); for top floor/cockloft fires, the presence of any significant dead loads on the roof (hoppers, air-conditioning units, water tanks, etc.); if identifiable, the type of roof support/deck system (i.e., Bowstring truss, rain roof, etc.).
Accessibility. Buildings might have limited to almost nonexistent accessibility to the rear. Members who are assigned to the roof can advise of the easiest and quickest way to access the rear of the fire building. This can be through rear yards of buildings on the parallel street, alleys, narrow driveways and rear yards at the end of the block or going through or, if necessary, up and over the buildings in the row. Don’t be deterred. Regardless of the accessibility options, resources must get to the rear.
Roof open. Again, be specific. There’s a big difference between opening/removing a skylight or scuttle compared with cutting and removing a section of roof deck and/or return walls. Tell the boss what you opened and what you see.