Firehouse.Com – Fire Below! The Importance of the ‘Basement Check’

Be sure to stop by on Monday, January 5th, to check out TT instructor Nick Martin’s article on size-up issues related to basement fires.  

The article can be found here.


5 Responses

  1. Great article, Nick. We had a job a couple of weeks ago that was one of those “smoke from everywhere” on our arrival. As I was stretching in, something in the back of my mind clicked from training with you guys, and I realized there was more than met the eye. I changed tactics and moved the line to the basement stairs, and sure enough, there was heavy fire in the basement. It turned out that the living room floor had suffered a complete collapse prior to our arrival, due to an immense fuel load in the basement.

    I’ll credit Traditions Training with helping spread the information that helped us go home safely that night.

    • Caleb,

      That is the most rewarding feedback we can ever hear. Thanks for sharing. Most of the things we talk about on here, like basement checks, weren’t invented by us. Someone learned the hard way and somewhere down the line we heard about it. If we can pass that knowledge along to anyone else who may be helped by it, we’ve accomplished our goal.

      I’m sure you looked like a pretty heads up company, as well, finding the fire that quickly – when many probably expected it to be somewhere else…


  2. Good job Nick. We look forward to more.

  3. Great article Nick,

    Sadly you are right on target in regards to the increasing amount of firefighter injuries and deaths as a result of weak floors. This is only going to continue with the use of engineered floor systems. Traditional framing of floor joists allowed for burn through rates of approximately 1/2 inch every 10 minutes with both sides exposed. This burn rate allowed for us to have a margin of error that we got too fond of and frankly just lucky, most of the time. Todays engineered flooring systems leave us no room for error, failure can be as early as 5 minutes without direct flame impingement, just heat. As for those of you thinking “well all our buildings are old frame”, don’t forget that our fire load has changed. Today’s plastic fuel load brings with it a heat temperature and release rate that your father didnt have to contend with. Nick, yourself and DCFD are doing the brothers a tremendous service by making the check and teaching it to others. Good Job,
    Here is a short list of some other basement dangers.
    No Windows or Bars on Windows
    Bad Interior Steps
    Long hose stretches basement stairs in rear of house that strech back to the front
    Basement Apartments (even single family, SRO’s)
    Illegal basement storage
    Drop ceilings (wires)
    Open electrical panels
    and something we see often, and contributed to losing three of our own, multiple floors below the street entrance.

    Once again great article, take care


  4. Basement fires always concern me for many reasons. They endanger all occupants on that level and all levels above, quickly compounding the rescue concerns. They offer avenues for fire spread to all areas of the building. Finally, they pose difficult challenges to get the attack line into position to confine and extinguish the fire.

    I think of basement access, read hoseline access, in three ways. Interior stairway access only, Interior and exterior stairway access, and interior stairway and same level walk out opening. Each has their obvious challenges, but I need to know what the options are as soon as possible in a fire origonating in the basement.

    Our training tells us to protect the interior stairway and attack from the unburned side towards the seat of the fire. This commonly gets interpeted to mean the first line must go into the building, down the interior stairway to confine and extinguish the basement fire. This action places our people briefly on the floor platform that is being consume by the fire below, and we know the possible outcomes. Even placing a line at the top of the interior stairway in a holding action endangers that crew.

    Young officers are conditioned to respond to these situations as they do intraining, when the platform above the basement fire will never be weak, and may act in a pavlovian way without realizing the consequences of the action. Those who have had a foot/leg plunge through a floor above the basement fire or crawled up to an area burned through and withdrawn, know the caution that needs to exercised.

    Stress the point that the risk of placing crews in the position above the basement fire, or above any fire for that matter, needs to be equal to the benefit or impact on the fire outcome to justify the order.


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