The Garage Door revisited

Hopefully, we have all seen the video from the 80’s that shows the companies operating a handline on a house fire and members outside in the driveway watching as the door slowly closes, cutting off the line and causing the mad scramble to get the members, who are out of air, and banging on the door. If you have not, it is attached below. 

Most of us watch the video and, as we do with a lot of close calls and LODD, wonder how could that have had happened. Well, as old as the video is the situation occurred recently while I was operating at a rather “routine” house fire. The situation concerning this incident was not an indictment of the actions of the personnel but rather another example of how a routine incident became anything but….

The incident was dispatched as a house fire, with a vehicle on fire inside of an attached garage. Units arrived with nothing showing from the bottom of the driveway. Due to the area, the driveway was a steep but short hill so it was difficult to see the entire structure. As units stretched a line up the driveway it was obvious that there was a relatively small fire in the engine compartment of a Mercedes parked inside of a 2 car garage with the door opened. One of the firefighters entered the garage, that had smoke consistent with a small vehicle fire, to make a purchase with the halligan for the handline to extinguish the fire. He did this while his crew finished flaking the hose out. Upon entering the garage, while wearing his SCBA, and making the purchase he heard members in the driveway start to yell, noticed the conditions in the garage rapidly decrease, and the garage door starting to come down. The door came down completely and cut off his main exit, fortunately members broke out the glass panel and passed the handline to him while they working on dismantling the door and finding the interior entrance. The point to be shared is that the fire that was isolated to the engine compartment of the Mercedes was the culprit in causing this “Mayday” situation. The newer and more expensive cars have an integrated system that allows the owner to program their garage door control to their vehicle. The fire orignated in the electrical components of the vehicle which than caused the signal to be erroneously sent from the vehicle to garage door to close eventhough the vehicle was off. So, now aside from the failing of the motor mounted above the door or the inadvertant hitting of the buttons on the wall by our personnel working we must now be congizant of this hazard.

The solution to avoid this completely would have been to disable the door from being able to come down regardless of the controls located within the vehicle. It was not done in this instance because it seemed like a “routine” fire which we have all seen in the LODD reports. We have all been taught to place a pike pole in the track or clip a carabiner in one of holes in the track to stop the door but I think the best method is to take the fork of your Halligan and bend the track as high as you can reach to cause the door to stop from closing. The problem with the tools or carabiners is that it is prone to the human nature of firefighters…..which is to borrow that which is not ours, i.e. – wonder why anyone would leave a perfectly good carabiner on a garage door!

Please share this with your personnel and talk about what you would do on a garage fire or feel free to share your tips and tricks for securing garage doors for even the routine and mundane fire in one of these structures.


5 Responses

  1. Dan,

    Although I agree with dismantling the garage track if possible to prohibit the door from working I am an even stronger advocate for avoiding running lines through the garage door at all. It is much safer in my opinion to enter through the front door of the structure and advance a line via the interior of the dwelling so you avoid the potential of a falling door altogether. Your truck companies can/should be opening up the door (which can be done by using the inverted V and then removing the panels) while you advance your line. By doing this, you give your truck time to work and allow yourself a safe egress via the interior of the house. It also pushes the fire/smoke away from the dwelling area of the structure and reduces further damage, but more importantly it places a charged hose line between the fire and any occupant who may still be in the residence attached to the garage.

  2. Brian,

    I agree that advancing a line through the door is best… This story is not only a good discussion starter for garage doors, but also for how such a simple situation that ANY of us could have been lurred into can go bad… Fortunately it sounds like in this one, embarassment was the only injury.

    As far as cutting the doors, this was a residence. Most of the garage doors there are going to be wood or sheet-metal. The technique you’re describing sounds more like a roll-down gate cut…

    On a SFD garage door I think it is easiest to disable/remoe the lift arm, if possible and lift the door manually. However that adds a couple more challenges for us…

    1) If we then plan to operate in the garage we have this heavy door rolled up above our heads. Depending on conditions it could fall on us.

    2) If its nessecary to hook the garage ceiling, this rolled up door will now be a problem.

    As such, I’m kind of inclined to cut the door also… However I’d probably go at it with a box cut: make a long cut across the top as high as possible, starting and ending about 12″ from each end. Then, crossing the cuts, cut down to the ground on one side. Then grab the door with a halligan or something and walk it out toward the other side, opening it up. A relief cut or two may be nessecary in some cases….

    That’ll give us a lot more egress / ventilation than a inverted-V cut.


  3. Nick,

    I will agree an inverted V may not be the best solution for the cutting. Your box cut idea seems to me to be the best. I was looking more at speed than efficiency with my comments.
    I don’t think I would ever attempt to roll the door overhead for fear of imminent collapse. As we all know steel has a very low expansion and fail rate in fire, not to mention thin steel rails wanting to twist under heat. The average garage door weighs quite a bit and if it were to fall it could have catastrophic consequences. Now you could have injured firefighters, trapped under metal/wood doors, with no way to advance or maneuver their line for protection. You have also inadvertently cut of ingress/egress from the front of the garage because you can not walk on or move the garage door with firefighters under it until you can place members in position from the interior. This will take time and time is something those guys don’t have.
    As far as your box cut idea I like the points you made up to bending it out of the way. You can use this method to open the whole quickly, but take the time once you have it open to make the third cut and remove the obstacle out of the brothers way for safety. One less thing in the way is one less thing to hurt or kill a brother firefighter. Being “Combat Ready” is not just protecting yourself but all those around you. I am a firm believer in aggressive firefighting but I am an even more firm believer in smart aggressive firefighting.

    **On a side note, this site is great. We finally have an area with actual good information being passed on with links to other sites that have the same intentions. Job well done Traditions Training!**

  4. Brian,

    Thanks for visiting the site and taking the time to post a response. I think Nick and you posted some good thoughts on the truck actions which should generate some conversation around the firehouse kitchen table.

    As for the Engine Ops, I would agree with you that we always focus on placing the line between the fire and occupants. In this particular situation the 2nd Engine was able to deploy their line about the same time as the first line. The 2nd line went to front of the home and staged due to the fact that there was no smoke present in the dwelling (nor was there at anytime during the incident). The initial conditions within the garage would have prompted most FF’s to walk in and maybe not even “mask” up because smoke conditions were so light. As initially stated, you could not even see smoke from the street. Hopefully that lends some clarity to the initial operations.

    Thanks again for your post and bringing up the very valid points of basic Engine Company Ops that our goal, as an Engine, is to provide water to the fire and place that line between the fire and occupants and fight fire from the unburned to the burned.

    Thanks and be safe,


  5. The “V” cut (regular, not inverted) is best used to give the engine more room to sweep the ceiling and get more penatration deep into the structure. Mostly in larger structures or commercial occupancies. If the line is to be pushed in, the traditional triangle could be used. Leaving more room on the bottom to move. All points disscussed are valid.

    Stay safe…

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