Firefighter Handling of Vacant Buildings
Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for my friends in the fire service, and it’s about fires in vacant buildings.
We can reduce risk by identifying the vacant buildings in our response areas. Whether you have seven or 700 vacant buildings, you need to find them and make sure information is readily available.
While vacant buildings have existed forever, the Great Recession in 2008 led to the “zombie building” phenomenon. A zombie building is created when the owner is served with foreclosure papers. The owner leaves the property, believing the lender has taken the property.
But sometimes, the lender decides not to complete the foreclosure, returning responsibility for the property to the owner. If the owner has left the city or state, the municipality is left holding the bag.
This means the “zombies” are now a fire department problem.
Every time a firefighter death or serious injury occurs in a vacant building, the internet buzzes. Arguments ensue. A lot of people seem to have all the answers. And everyone has an opinion.
There are two primary camps. The first group of firefighters will argue, “How do you know no one is in the building?” The other camp states, “No building is worth a firefighter’s life, therefore interior firefighting is a ‘no go’ – full stop.”
Both sides miss the most important point: We can reduce risk by identifying the vacant buildings in our response areas. Whether you have seven or 700 vacant buildings, you need to find them and make sure information is readily available.
Readily available can mean anything from marking the building to real-time data available through your agency’s computer-aided dispatch system. The heaviest lift for your agency will be gathering and cleaning the data. Some of the data may be gleaned from the building or code compliance department. Other sources for data can be obtained from the post office, census data, and the assessor’s office.
The simplest way to ensure your firefighters know a building is vacant is to go door to door, one street at a time in your response area. Ideally, the data collected is in a standardized format so it can be readily disseminated across your agency.
And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.