Blog by Jason Hoevelmann
Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with Sullivan Fire Protection District

We were the second truck on the scene for a fire in a neighboring jurisdiction. The first truck was training on the other side of the district, so it was only a few seconds ahead of us. It was a single family home with a basement. The first company reported heavy fire and smoke. They were pulling a pre-connect hose.

As we moved past the first engine we were directed to catch the plug. While grabbing a tool and moving toward the front door where the first company had already made entry, I noticed their attack line was flat and the front screen door was closed on top of it. They had no water.

This scenario is not uncommon. One quick remedy is to secure the front door open, which is what happened. There was no delay in getting the attack crew water. But attack teams need to ensure before making entry to control the doors that could impede our progress and egress.

Controlling the door has many applications in firefighting operations and can complicate our tactics and progress. It’s imperative that we maintain control of the doors at all times and understand how to do so. It’s not just during forcible entry that we must control these means of access; it’s during all firefighting operations. This task is paramount for our safety and victims who may be trapped.

Whether we are in a single family home or a high-rise apartment building, it’s important to use doors to our advantage. In many cases, it’s as easy as just closing the door for protection. In other instances, we need to prop doors open for the advancement of hose lines and paths of egress. It’s up to us to be familiar with the when and how.

During search operations, especially during VES, we must use the door as protection from heat, smoke and fire. While searching a room from the hallway or common area without a hose line, it’s appropriate to have one firefighter search the bedroom while one stays at the door. If the hallway becomes untenable, the firefighter can enter the room and shut the door.

For VES operations, the control of the door is a must. After sounding the floor and making entry from the outside, firefighters should close the door. This protects the firefighter and any victims who may be in the room. Rapidly changing conditions may cause the room to become untenable.

With the threat of wind-driven fires in buildings, especially high rises, controlling the door is critical. This can literally determine if you survive. Control of the door from the stairwell must be made to insure that superheated gases and windblown fire does not compromise the position in the stairwell. Failure to control the stairwell can result in the spread of smoke to upper floors, making fire suppression and search efforts difficult.

In addition, the fire room door should be controlled. Not controlling the door can compromise search efforts on the floor and can cause suppression crews to retreat from the blow torch like flames and heat. Severe conditions can cause serious injury or death in some of these fires. It should be noted that when conditions deteriorate in a wind driven fire, firefighters should never seek refuge in the unit across from the fire room. Instead, get into a unit adjacent to the fire unit on the same side of the building and control the door to that unit.

As important as it is to control the door by closing it, it is just as important to keep doors open to allow suppression crews a clear opening to quickly find and extinguish the fire. Back up crews need a clear path behind the attack team. Closing doors can cut off water and reduce pressure to attack lines, leaving the attack team vulnerable.

Control of the door may seem basic, but it’s a skill that is often overlooked. Even on the routine, single-family house fire, we need to control doors during suppression and search operations. All doors should be controlled on all fires, not only for advancing crews to get in, but for them to get out as well. That one door you open in the back of the house might be the one that saves a life.

As with all firefighting tactics, follow your local jurisdictions guidelines and operating procedures and train accordingly. The more you train on these skills, the more second nature they will become.

>> Blog was originally posted with TargetSolutions in February of 2011.

About the Author
Jason Hoevelmann is a Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with the Sullivan Fire Protection District, a combination department. Hoevelmann is also a career firefighter/paramedic with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years and he has been an instructor for more than 15 years.