Harsh Weather Operations- Snow

As most of you guys are aware, if you’ve been following the national news lately, the Northeast has been hit with an historic amount of snowfall this year. Boston alone has recorded over 95 inches, this year; with most of that over the past three weeks. While out in my district, I noticed one key issue which has been appearing everywhere around the district and throughout the city. It is kind of common sense, when you think about it: when the amount of a material exceeds the allowable space for said material, where do you put the excess material? The answer usually becomes, ‘Wherever you can find a place…’

In most cases, homeowners are forced to build snow mounds of Everest proportions. What caught my eye was what is no longer seen because of these mounds, and the implications this may have on suppression operations. See if you can figure out what is missing, based on the two photos below:

Outside 1                                                                      Outside 2


If you guessed the window into the basement, you would be correct! This massive snow mound has built up, and enveloped the window well for the basement window below it. Now, how would this be a limiting factor in your tactical operations? For most structure fire operations, this wouldn’t be a problem, if you discount the massive pile that may get in your way to throw a ladder, or to ventilate the window on the first floor. Specifically, this would be a problem in the event of a working basement fire. Ventilation would not be able to be conducted as easily under these circumstances, as on a day without the snow on the ground. You can see the view from the inside of the basement to further illustrate this point.



A common tactic that is frequently employed on buildings where there is not a “Ready-Made” ventilation opening or window; is to cut a hole the width of the window, approximately 1 Ft away from the window above the fire, and hydraulically ventilate the basement. In this case, that window is also compromised. Based on the proximity of the front door to the Fire Room, you could also use this tactic at the front door, but be aware, you have just removed a method of entry and egress from the building. This doesn’t necessarily take this tactic off of the table, it just means that the Incident Commander and everyone on the fireground needs to be aware of this fact.

Basment Ventilation                                                                                                                                     (Smith, J.P., 2012, p. 285)
In this case, this house provides a window on the “D” (Delta) side of the house, above the Fire Room, and would be a prime candidate to cut a hole in the floor in front of the window. Another thing to consider, with regards to the window on the First floor “A” (Alpha) side which I referenced earlier, is that this window also provides a method of egress for someone caught in bad conditions. If possible, the Incident Commander should detail one or two guys to shovel out the pile in front of this window. This will accomplish two objectives: 1) Emergency Egress, and 2) Ventilation point for suppression operations. This would be a perfect job for a company not being utilized, or would be well within the capabilities of the RIT team, provided it doesn’t prevent a rapid response by them, if they are needed.
I wanted to bring up some of the difficult factors which weather, like snow, can have on a simple bread and butter operation. It is not a common thing to have to deal with these types of conditions, but it is always better to have this tucked away in the back of one’s mind, prior to arriving on the scene, and having to think through the plan, when critical seconds count. This is not the end all- be all of what should be done in this circumstance, but is definitely some food for thought for those who commonly respond in areas where weather conditions do dictate tactics. As always, keep training, and stay safe! -RM

Photograph Reference

Smith, J.P. (2012). Strategic & Tactical Considerations on the Fireground, (3rd ed.).  Pearson: Boston, MA


1 Comment

  • Michael says:

    Protecting your own department building is also critical! Depending on your snow removal / ice removal arrangements – Your team could be in big trouble, even in “normal” snowfall!

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