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When Every Second Counts
Box Store Fires
As the numbers indicate, neither department operates with a large number of
members initially at structural incidents.
Obviously, the problems associated with
responding to these types of incidents are
significantly more pronounced at my volunteer agency since we operate without
any paid staff and fewer volunteers; we
also have a longer response time. Because
of this, we have been using the transitional approach (discussed below) for several
years with good results.
As fire department leaders, we need
to evaluate several considerations when
approaching suppression operations
in small and medium-sized retail box
stores, which are discussed below.
This article does not cover all aspects
of commercial building construction and
fire behavior. It presents a brief overview
to set the stage for the operational and
tactical discussion to follow.
To manage the response to these
incidents, you must be familiar with
the building stock within your community, including that of every small
and medium-sized box store. Clearly
identify in your preplans the construction type and specific characteristics of
each building (more on this later), and
ensure that all officers and members
responsible for commanding these
incidents are aware of these conditions. In addition, each member must
have a working understanding of how
each building type will likely perform
under fire conditions, including how it
will contribute to fire spread and the
possibility of structural failure. Identify
the known concealed and void spaces
in these buildings, and make sure that
each member of the command staff
understands how heat and fire in these
spaces will impact fire behavior and
spread, building performance including
structural failure, fire attack operations, and member safety.
The floor of the CVS store in photo
3 is divided into 18 aisles that occupy
the majority of the store’s interior. The
restrooms and stock room are on the B/C
corner of the structure and are behind a
locked door. The remainder of the C side
of the building is occupied by the open
pharmacy area that has a drive-through
window. The office is behind the sales
counter on the A side of the structure.
Access to the floor area from the exterior
is through a set of double doors on the
A side of the structure. There is a single
locked door on the C side of the building
for accessing the stock room.
Members must also know the capabilities and limitations of any fixed fire
protection systems in the structures and
what they should do to supplement the
operation of these systems on arrival at
At a minimum, every member who
may establish or assume command
must have a working knowledge of fire
behavior as it involves modern fuels.
Just as in residential structural fires,
fire behavior in retail establishments
has changed over the past 20 years. The
hydrocarbon-based loads commonly
found in most retail occupancies have
spurred increased British thermal unit