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By Joe Pronesti, Chris Tobin and Alexis Shady

It’s 4:00 a.m., you and a fellow firefighter have mounted the antenna on the roof of an old three-story building built in 1895, the incident commander has ordered you to “ventilate the roof”. There is a serious fire somewhere in the building as heavy smoke billows through every opening.

You and your partner brought a saw, a pole and an axe. You start to start the saw and after a few pulls you get it running. Smoke comes out of all the air vents and the sewer drain pipes on the roof. A decision is made where to cut and all you can think of is that the hole has to be 4 x 4 feet because that’s what the instructor told you in the classroom at your training academy firefighters five years ago.

You’ve plunged the rotary saw blade into the roof and you feel like you’re cutting through a thick pile of glue. The saw crackles and seems stuck, but it’s dark, smoky, and you only have your right-angle light for illumination. The leader barks to make the hole, the teams try to search the apartments below and things do not improve.

The command then requests an evacuation. You turn off the saw, have lost the ax and pike in the smoke, and you and your partner head for the parapet and down the street through the antenna.

As you sit on the street two hours later, eating a sandwich prepared by members of your community who have now all come downtown to witness the big event, watching mutual aid antennas run water on two iconic buildings you’ve walked past your whole life, you ask your partner why the roof was so hard to cut. You wonder how difficult everything was compared to the big city videos and fire academy PowerPoint you watched on vertical ventilation, which seemed so easy.

Today’s Main Street Memo focuses on roofs and the importance of planning and understanding that these roofs can have up to five layers of tar on the original roof deck built ago over 100 years. Some other things to consider are:

a. Wells, their locations, whether they are covered, etc.

b. Skylights, whether covered, covered, etc.

vs. Partitioned doors.

D. Panels.

e. HVAC equipment. Remember that they are usually placed on the roof well after the build date and have not been factored into the original weight capacity.

A great training idea is to use drone video to get a bird’s-eye view of your main street, or better yet, mount your antenna on a local rooftop and take a personal look.

is the Chief of the Elyria (OH) Fire Department. He is a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Program and a Senior Instructor at the Cuyahoga (OH) County Community College Fire Academy. He is a frequent contributor to fire department publications and sites, including fire and

CHRISTOPHER TOBIN is a firefighter assigned to St. Louis (MO) Fire Department Rescue 2.

ALEXIS SHADY is a firefighter/paramedic with the Richmond Heights (MO) Fire Department.


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