Roof Operations and Spray Foam Insulation

First and Foremost we here at County Fire Tactics, FULLY support vertical ventilation and letting the HEAT OUT!  Heat rises and when you open the roof, you are releasing BTUs therefore lowering the amount of GPSs required for knockdown. It amazes me how many fire departments do not support or allow vertical ventilation. I wonder if the same individuals support having the flue open on the fire place?

P st FIRE venting windowsP st FIRE line in front doorP st Fire axe haligan always startP st FIRE B2 watching roof OPSP st fire 8 guys out frontP st FIRE  ATTACK CREW 14

There is no question that vertical ventilation/roof operations on newer buildings requires training and a good understanding of building construction. Todays houses/buildings do not allow for delayed roof operations. You must decide early if vertical ventilation is needed and get it done ASAP. You must already have a line in place applying or ready to apply WATER to the FIRE, before or during the process of opening the roof.  Today’s Fire Loads burn hotter and faster than fire loads of yesterday. They also respond more aggressively to oxygen and this requires the fire service to have a better understanding of ventilation in general. Firefighters could break windows and open the roof 30 years ago without much of a threat to Rapid Fire Growth. If you take the window, open the door, cut the roof, and its not done at the right time, in right location; and coordinated with water application, you could have significant fire growth in seconds.

Spray Foam Insulation is becoming the common all over the country and could cause issues on the fireground. I have had numerous fires with SFI and have personally seen it burn and give off significant heat and fire gases. One fire was in a new commercial building that was fully sprinkled and still had a significant fire in the attic. I was first to arrive with heavy smoke pushing from the roof and eaves. The interior was clear and had a couple of sprinkler heads flowing. We supported the FDC, stretched a line to front entrance and assigned two crews to the roof. The crews started open the roof with a K12 “30 tooth blade” and the depth of cut was not sufficient to penetrate the SFI. The K12 cut the roof decking, but would not cut deep enough to cut all the SFI. The SFI had enough strength to keep the decking intact. The crews started punching with their roof hooks and haligan to break through the SFI. This fire showed the need for a traditional chainsaw with a 18″ bar to penetrate the decking and SFI. I personally recommend a Stihl 460.

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We recently had a fire in a New HUD house that had just been completed. The house got hit by lighting. I arrived first to observe light smoke. Once I got close and started a 360, realized we had heavy heat and smoke trapped in the attic. The house was clear inside, front to back. The fire was contained to the attic and starving for oxygen.  I assigned the first due engine to stretch a line and the first due truck to set up for roof operations. This was a one story, but still wanted them to  place the aerial to the roof. With todays building construction and fire growth, please consider using the aerial when possible for roof operations. This gives the roof team an independent platform/way of opening the roof without getting on the roof . It also gives a high point/something to hold onto if there was a collapse. You still want multiple ground ladders placed to the roof and a roof ladder when possible. Once the roof team opened the roof, the smoke lit off and rapid fire growth within seconds. This was a none issue, based on the Engine had a line in place, charged, and multiple firefighters to open the porch ceiling. This allowed for rapid extinguishment and minimized any further damage. The roof team advised the roof felt SOLID before and after cutting. This attic had SFI and gives a FALSE sense that the roof is SOLID. When going back the following watch, we put 12 firefighters on the roof and it still felt solid. SFI makes sounding a roof very tuff and hides the weakness of a lightweight/ “TRUSS’ constructed roof. Get Out and preplan your district. Understand that SFI attic spaces can cause a false reading when firefighters are operating on the roof. If you have heat and smoke trapped in an SFI attic, have a line stretch, crews breathing air, and be ready when that space gets the oxygen its looking for. OPEN THE ROOF before pulling ceilings. Let the fire gases escape vertically before giving oxygen from below.

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We also had another fire this last year in a three story MANSION that had SFI all over. The fire started from lighting on the exterior and communicated up the side of the house. Crews were outside operating multiple lines and checking inside for extension. Crews inside were advising, no extension and everything outside showed signs that the fire was out. The IC was starting to release companies, when my driver “Light Duty assigned” spoke up that he could see light smoke from the eaves. He pointed out where he could see the light smoke. I took another look from a different angle with my TIC “TICs outside are critical” and I could visible see heat on the TIC screen. We rapidly called for the Truck to set up from an adjacent hotel  parking lot and place the aerial over a large wall separating the Mansion from the hotel parking lot. We ordered lines stretched to the top floor interior and the roof crew to breath air while opening the roof. Once the roof crew opened the roof, it lit off violently, blowing through the hole ten feet. There were multiple chiefs on-scene and the interior was having trouble getting the 350′ attack line to the third floor. Yes, it took a 350′ attack line to reach the third floor finished attic. I took interior and when I reached the interior stairs that lead up to the finished attic, it was lights out with medium heat. Once up in the attic it was high heat and everything was destroyed and we had active fire. The SFI was so thick it covered most of the structural members. This could have turned out much worse, if it was not for a firefighter speaking up, and utilizing aggressive tactics, to include vertical ventilation. This was a multi million dollar house, that sustained minor damage, in comparison to what it could have been. This was another SFI FIRE that required VERTICAL VENTILATION with rapid water application from below.

SFI is common and will continue to be used. It is not a problem, as long as you understand its insulation capabilities. It will seal heat in and keep oxygen out. It can increase the chances of a smoke explosion and/or backdraft. Nothing Showing, Means Nothing Anymore!!

Don’t be LAZY!!  Stretch Lines,  use your TIC, Breath Air, Open Up, and be READY to FLOW WATER!!  This was just a quick nugget. More to come on SFI.

Curt Isakson

3 thoughts on “Roof Operations and Spray Foam Insulation

  1. There is so much, I was not exposed to leaveing the field as recently as 2009. Articles like this are critical to show the fast pass of change in building construction SPI is but one example, Nice going Curt. If your willing to have members on the roof you better have a line in place and flowing below protecting the roof integrity. There must be enough members this the proper size and length hooks as well.

  2. We tried to vent at the highest point in the gable. It kept personnel off the roof, and below any added insulation inside the roof.

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