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NIOSH offers recommendations for firefighters facing basement, below-grade fires

September 19, 2018

Washington — Entrapment from floor collapse, burns and asphyxiation are among the dangers faced by firefighters who respond to fires in basements and other below-grade areas, according to a recently published report from NIOSH.

In the Workplace Solutions report, the agency points out that the increased risk from these fires often stems from limited entry and exit points, weakened floor structures, being caught in the fire’s flow path, and ventilation issues, among others. The report calls basement and below-grade firefighting one of the most challenging situations these first responders face.

Among the agency’s recommendations are conducting a 360-degree “size-up” to locate the fire, attacking the fire externally and reassessing fire conditions before entering a building. In addition, NIOSH advises firefighters to use thermal imagers during an initial assessment, but cautions that these tools have limitations.

The report, which includes a case study on a fire that started below street level and killed two firefighters, offers additional strategies and tactics for fighting basement and below-grade fires, along with a list of suggested controls before, during and after an event.