Fire attack: How to beat a thrift-store fire

Robert Avsec

Fires in salvage yards and thrift stores can present an immense number of tactical challenges to responding fire officers and firefighters. Anything and everything can be in the building or on the grounds — from compressed gas cylinders to household appliances to firearms and ammunition.

The fuel loads can be extraordinarily large and varied, particularly in thrift stores that deal in clothing and household furnishings. The fuel load will include merchandise that's already been sorted and put out on display along with an equal, or greater amount, of clothing and merchandise that's still awaiting the triage process.

The arrangement of the fuel, or how merchandise is displayed for sale, can vary greatly. Larger and more established thrift retailers, like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, typically do a much better job of keeping things orderly.

Buildings and structures used for salvage and thrift store operations have typically seen many different occupancies during their lives. Building and fire code provisions covering such things a sprinkler systems and emergency exits pathways, may or may not have been adequately maintained during those occupancy changes.

Also, notice how concise the chief's report is on this incident.

Discussion questions

  • How would you manage the operational safety risks to firefighters the involved structure and surrounding grounds present?
  • What would your size-up reveal and how would that impact your incident action plan?
  • How would you implement your IAP?
  • What are the key operational and safety aspects of conducting a safe, effective, and efficient operation for this fire?

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