Vacant or Unoccupied: Tactical Risk and Safety

We seem to do a lot of things at times out of common practice and repetition, you know; “We’ve always done it that way….” syndrome. There’s a resonating theme that is making its way around the fire service dealing with going to a defensive tactical posture at vacant or unoccupied structure fires.

This command posture leads to limiting interior operating engagement, while promoting a high degree of risk management.With that being said, there are also plenty of opinions on these types of policies as such, since this type of tactical effort may be contrary to the local “culture and traditions” of the responding agencies and may be a hard pill to swallow, since we’re in the job of “ fighting ALL fires..” Please refresh your memories on a past post on Tactical Entertainment HERE and HERE

Here are some basic definitions to keep us all on the same playing field;

Vacant; refers to a building that is not currently in use, but which could be used in the future. The term “vacant” could apply to a property that is for sale or rent, undergoing renovations, or empty of contents in the period between the departure of one tenant and the arrival of another tenant. A vacant building has inherent property value, even though it does not contain valuable contents or human occupants.

Unoccupied; generally refers to a building that is not occupied by any persons at the time an incident occurs. An unoccupied building could be used by a business that is temporarily closed (i.e. overnight or for a weekend). The term unoccupied could also apply to a building that is routinely or periodically occupied; however the occupants are not present at the time an incident occurs. A residential structure could be temporarily unoccupied because the residents are at work or on vacation. A building that is temporarily unoccupied has inherent property value as well as valuable contents.

The question today, as you’re having coffee around the table is this. As a responding company, you arrive at the scene of a vacant or unoccupied structure. The building’s construction features and systems have inherent risk associated with the occupancy, (as is the case with nearly all of our structures and occupancies).

Your company determines that you’re going to go defensive, even though you probably could make a reasonably safe entry and engage in interior structural fire suppression.

Would there be any repercussions in your station, battalion/district/community or organization if you took this tactic? What are YOUR personal thoughts on this form of risk management?

Some insights, HERE and HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE

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Chris Naum

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