Skip to main content block


Q5: Why do you cut holes in the roof and tear out the walls?
Content : A: The primary objective is still an unwavering commitment to saving lives and property. There are seldom any questions from the public regarding our efforts in the category of rescue, but when it comes to saving property there are always procedures and practices, which are misunderstood by the citizens in the street. Why do fire fighters break our windows and cut holes in the roof they ask. Why do they pull our ceilings down and tear our walls out when they're supposed to be saving our property? Perhaps this can provide some insight as to why property is purposely damaged during fire fighting.
One of the keys to successfully extinguishing a fire inside a building is to ventilate. Ventilation is the process by which by-products of the fire (heat, smoke, gasses) are removed from the structure so an interior attack can be made. Only fire fighters or those who have experienced a fire first hand can appreciate the untenable conditions inside a burning building. Despite silly, simulated fires seen in the movies or on television, the reality is that fire fighters enter smoked filled structures virtually blind and highly vulnerable to high temperatures, which can soar past 1000 degrees at the ceiling. Even with all our protective gear on and our air packs, fire fighters cannot survive long when exposed to such extreme temperatures. Therefore it is imperative that the worse of the smoke and heat be removed in order for fire fighting operations to be done properly.
If we lived in a perfect world opening doors and windows would do all the ventilation. Life is seldom so simple. In many of the burning buildings we fine that the windows are painted shut, or simply do not work. The only way to ventilate is to break the windows. Another problem is that the hot gasses rise to the highest part of the structure. Opening windows provides horizontal ventilation, but vertical ventilation is much more effective. In a perfect world there would be an adequate number of sizable vents in the roof to allow such a procedure to be more easily done. This is rarely the case. In order to accomplish our task we have to cut a hole in the roof. Suck a sight can be very disturbing to a property owner, but it is simply the matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. If a building is not vented the fire fighters may not be able to complete an interior attack and the structure well be lost. The same is true for fires behind walls and in ceilings. There are two alternatives. Leave the structure intact and allow the fire to spread, or tear off the exterior coverings and expose the flames. The correct choice is obvious. Something that is not so obvious is that after the main fire has been knocked down, it is generally necessary to dig into insulation and check behind finished materials to check for hot spots. If this is not done, a tiny smoldering ember can grow into a second fire hours later, and those same property owners who complained when we began pulling down insulation and ceiling tiles would then question our competency because we let the fire start back up again.
Every effort is made to keep property damage to a minimum during fire fighting operations. Water is used as sparingly as possible and salvage covers are spread to protect furniture and carpeting from whatever run off occurs. A positive pressure fan is used to force fresh air into the building. The procedure also forces hot smoke and gasses out of the building in a hurry and is much more effective than traditional ventilation methods. Holes are chopped into the roof only when the fire has reached into the attic. Windows are never broken out unless there is no other way to get them open. Still, when property owners see damage being inflicted by fire fighters they often become emotional. They need to remember that breaking out a window can save a room or that opening in the roof can save the entire top story. We get no pleasure out of damaging property, but we all now to well what well happen if we don't. In a perfect world we would not have to do such things, but in a perfect world there would be no fires in the first place.
Back Top