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Let's Talk Fire: Window Safety

Updated on May 10, 2013

Angry Window

Windows can be very dangerous.
Windows can be very dangerous.

The Scene

You pull up to a working fire with flame showing on the A/B side. Heavy smoke seems to be building up in that corner room and you quickly eye ball 2 large picture windows. You leap from the truck and grab a pike pole and off to the windows you run. As the pole shatters the glass you are covered with shards of razor sharp window fragment, each one as deadly as the last.

I bet you wish you could rethink that initial plan a little bit don't you? Firefighters have long been known for busting windows out with the aggression of a caveman clubbing his next wife. Sure breaking things is fun and exciting but we have to step back and think what will breaking this glass do to the fire scene, the people on it, and the stability of the structure we are trying to save. Those are questions you can't afford to overlook. If you do it could be a quick trip to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.

The way we handle windows can vary from scene to scene and window type to window type. It is all a matter of using the training we have to know the best method to handle the situation at that particular time. In this installment of Let's Talk Fire we are going to look at ways we can make windows work for us, not against us.

Unlocked Window

If the window is unlocked why bust it?
If the window is unlocked why bust it?

Try before you pry.

I did a forced entry article some time back and I wanted to reflect on the cardinal rule of forced entry. Try it before you pry it! The same rule applies to windows. If you need to make entry into a room where there is no immediate danger of smoke and fire why not see if that window is opened before you go breaking it all to heck like Lindsey Lohan's rehab records? This will still allow you to use the window to gain access into the structure but will also let you avoid the hazard of broken glass.

While it may at first seem silly to think a window in a structure would be left unlocked you may be shocked to learn that it is more common than you think. Many people just forget to lock the window back in place or in some cases in smaller communities it is never considered a necessity to begin with.

The first thing that any firefighter should do is check to see if they can open the window without breaking the glass or damaging the integrity of the structural components, remember one of the vital aspects of what we do is property conservation. Nothing gets a home owner steamed like finding out you busted 3 $400 windows when you did not have to.

One method

Pike Pole

The head of the pike pole is idea for breaking a window while putting distance between the firefighter and the dangerous glass.
The head of the pike pole is idea for breaking a window while putting distance between the firefighter and the dangerous glass.

Firefighter to incident command, the window is locked!

A locked window that needs to go is a firefighter's dream, even though it should be regardless as a nightmare in many ways. One aspect that must be remembered is if behind that window is a smoldering fire just itching tio get a nice big bite of fresh air you could be placing yourself and your crew mates in harm's way. Busting a window in an environment were a smoldering fire is still active could result in a backdraft. This could injure, or in the worse case scenario kill a firefighter without much thought. Make sure you check to ensure backdraft indicators are not present before you open that window.

So we have no backdraft indicators, just a locked window. The biggest mistake I see on firegrounds when windows have to be taken out is someone throwing a rock through them. I am serious this is a last resort effort. I admit I was engaged in fireground activity when I was confronted with a plexiglass window about 3 inches thick blocking access to a room about to flash and I heaved a 45 pound block of coal through it. It was silly and dumb on my part and since those rookie days I am still ridiculed by my peers and rightfully so!

Taking out a window can't be just quick and messy. Broken glass will in fact shred through turnout gear without much force having to be applied at all. It is vital that if we have time to do so we make the right preparations to remove the window safely.

My recommendations for this is to use a tarp. Have 2 firefighter hold the tarp over the window and a third firefighter break the glass with a pike pole. Now we simply place the tarp over the broken glass once we have cleared it from the window seal and there you have it.

But reality for us volunteers is we just dion't have the man power to have three guys working on one window so we have to think a little differently. How do we handle that situation?

One firefighter window break

One firefighter + one pike pole= success.

In the event we need to remove a window and we really don't have the staff to handle the tarp method we must simply use what we have on hand. I usually grab a long pike pole off the truck as soon as I get to the scene. The reason being we almost always have to have it so I place it in a convenient location. One firefighter can actually use a long pike pole to take out a window with ease and precision. here is how to do so.

1. Stand to the side of the window. I mean far enough to where if that fire decides to hurl that glass right back out that window you will not be it's target.

2. Angle the pike pole so that the hooked end is faced the window. I want to get enough impact from that metal head to shatter that glass and the hook is the best bet for the job to go off.

3. Swinging as you would a bat let the head of the pole make contact with the window. Use enough force to break the glass.

4. Once the glass is broken be careful and move closer to the window.

5. Now use the pike pole to remove any shards of glass that may have stayed on the window seal after the initial break.

6. Always, and I repeat ALWAYS!!!! use your visor when clearing glass from a window.

Now you have single handily taken a window out.

The issue still remains that there will be glass on the ground and in the event this window was broken to allow entry the glass on the inside will present a very dangerous situation.


Of course there are other tools that work. You can use a halligan bar, a ladder, an axe and even the end of the hose if need be. Just know that when you break glass you have to try and do it the safest way you can. We as firefighters have a stressful job. The fact is the stress of firefighting is so intense that we are more likely to suffer a heart attack than any other occupation in the world. We do not need to make that matter worse by allowing some broken glass to put us out of the line of fire.

As always I encourage you to be safe and to really practice methods of window removal at your department. A simple technique is to build a prop to simulate the window and just go through t motions but maybe if you are lucky you can get to an abandoned house that has been condemned in your area and practice on the windows present there. it is the training that saves our lives so we have to at least get our self familiar with it. For now all you nozzleheads and hose junkies I am signing off but remember to be safe and always learn from our past, for survival in the future.


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