Challenges and Concerns of Underground Parking Garages

Blog by Will Anderson
Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio

In a previous blog, I mentioned how the Euclid Fire Department (EFD) in Ohio protects dozens of high-rise buildings. To accommodate the residents of these residential properties, both above- and below-ground parking garages exist. Any fire below grade will test the responding department, but when the fire occurs in a large open area, unique concerns come to mind. This blog discusses these concerns and helps prepare crews for the challenges of a below-grade fire, or any fire in a large, open building.

Recently, my department, the EFD, responded to a vehicle fire in an underground parking garage. While the fire was confined to one vehicle, the incident served as a reminder of several important training topics that most departments only experience every few years. We received a call about a vehicle on fire in an underground parking garage. This garage did not have sprinklers or standpipes. The first engine arrived on scene, only three minutes after the call.

The engine officer established Command and reported they had smoke showing from the 400- by 60-foot garage, but couldn’t determine how far into the garage the vehicle was located. As the on-duty platoon chief, I arrived one minute later and assumed the role of incident commander (IC).I had a ladder truck, an ambulance, and another engine responding since the fire had occurred inside a structure.

Lt. Banning performed a quick reconnaissance and instructed his crew to begin pulling 2inches of hose, while another crew member obtained the apartment pack of 1 s hose off of their apparatus. As his platoon chief, I know how important Lt. Banning takes his training. His crew performs extremely well at fire scenes and they are as equally well trained. I was very comfortable with the actions he had begun.

Shortly after their initial stretch into the garage, I was able to obtain this picture:


Crews make their initial stretch into an underground parking garage fire using 2 1/2-inch hose, which was reduced to less than 2 inches inside the structure.

By reading the smoke, we should be able to tell this fire isn’t of much significance, but that’s no reason to become complacent and assume everything will be fine. As an IC, this is what I want to avoid at all times. At this point, my thoughts were now on providing some form of ventilation to the attack crew. By now, Truck 21 led by Lt. Pete Bernacki had arrived. I instructed him and his crew to assist in getting the first line in operation. Once that was completed, their orders were to provide horizontal ventilation by breaking garage windows and performing forcible entry of a man door at the far end of the garage. There was a strong northerly wind in excess of 30 mph, which would aid the removal of the smoke.

Medic 41 was instructed to control the elevators and stand by in the basement to protect any unsuspecting occupants from entering the smoke-filled garage. After this assignment was given to Medic 41, Engine 12, led by Lt. Chris Herak, arrived. Their orders were to perform RIT duties and set up near the attack engine, Engine 13.

The fire was roughly 200 feet inside the 400 foot-long garage. It was confined to one vehicle and quickly controlled. However, the picture shown above made me think of several areas of training we must be proficient in to make sure we go home at the end of our shift. In no particular order, these topics include:

>> Proficiency in large area searches
>> The need for air management
>> Proficiency in buddy breathing
>> Understanding your ventilation options are limited, but still required
>> Carrying and deploying personal rope for use in large areas
>> The importance of staying on the hoseline
>> Understanding the dangers of cold smoke
>> Effectively communicating conditions, actions, and needs
>> Knowing your buildings
>> Blocking track of garage door

This is a short list of topics that initially came to my mind. Perhaps after you see the picture, you or your crew can think of others. Discuss your findings and work toward proficiency in these skills. All of these are important and serve a purpose. Since the attack crew made entry through the open garage door, Lt. Banning instructed one of his crew members to block the track to prevent the door from closing. They accomplished this by the methods shown in the images below:


Vice grips block the track of a garage door on left side.


A pike pole is used to block the garage door from closing on the right side.

Ironically, a few weeks prior to this incident, some firefighters from neighboring departments and I were discussing the topic of fires in underground parking garages. For us, they’re few and far between. Regardless of how small a fire may be, I still believe every fire serves as a reminder of how we can improve for the next one. Learn from your mistakes and those of others. None of us are perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be. On the way to perfection, well eventually come to excellence. Excellence in this business helps ensure we go home at the end of our shift. Be safe, be well, and be smart! Thanks for reading.

About the Author

Will Anderson is a Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio.Hes in his 18th year in the fire service and is certified as a State of Ohio Firefighter 2, Fire Instructor, and Paramedic. He recently completed his Fire Officer 1, 2, and 3 training in addition to his Blue Card certification. He has an Associate’s degree in Fire Science, another in Emergency Medical Services, and is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Administration.


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