Why Do Firefighters Break Windows?

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Have you ever wondered why Firefighters break windows when they’re fighting a fire? 

We’ve all seen the movies where Firefighters have broken a window (or two or three) on the house they were called to help. In some cases, it’s Hollywood Movie magic, in other cases, it’s for a good reason! 

When you see Firefighters breaking windows at a fire scene, it’s not because they’re trying to be destructive. They’re actually doing it for a very specific reason: to create ventilation.

Ventilation is the process of introducing fresh air into a space. In the context of Firefighting, ventilation is used to reduce the heat and smoke levels in a burning building in some cases.

 In other cases, Ventilation can be a dangerous thing, and you should not break a window unless you’ve been trained on what kind of fire you are managing (because of something called Back draft, which we’ll talk about below!). This is all part of the Fire Suppression ‘attack’ that Firefighters do when there is a Fire.

Firefighters learn all about Ventilation and Fire Suppression, plus helpful skills like Search and Rescue, House and Vehicle Extractions, and Scene Management (to name a few) as part of their career. If you are looking to Thank a Firefighter, here’s 10 suggested ways to Thank First Responders.

Let’s Talk Ventilation 

 Ventilation is the process of introducing fresh air into a space and removing stale air.

In the context of Firefighting, ventilation is used to reduce the heat and smoke levels in a burning building.In most cases, Ventilation lowers the temperature and improves visibility, which allows firefighters to work more safely and effectively.

It was very common to Ventilate Roofs, but many departments have moved away from that practice as a standard, and only use it when necessary.

How does Breaking a Window help Firefighters? 

When Firefighters break windows to allow more fresh air in, and more smokey air out, it’s called Ventilation. 

Most of the time, when a window is broken, the hot air and smoke inside the building are able to escape. 

This is also why Firefighters might NOT break any windows, and keep them all intact. It depends on the Fire, and the Firefighters use their training to know when to break a window, and when to use other Fire Suppression Methods. Breaking windows increase visibility but feeds oxygen to the fire. Thus creating a flow path making the fire spread faster.

Picture of grey brick house with smoke coming out of window during day

Ventilation has several benefits for firefighters, including:

  • Improved visibility: When the smoke is cleared, firefighters can see better and more easily find their way around the building. This reduces the risk of them getting lost or disoriented.
  • Lowered temperatures: The hot air that is vented out of the building lowers the temperature inside. This makes it easier for firefighters to breathe and work.
  • Reduced risk of backdraft: Backdraft is a dangerous phenomenon that can occur when a fire is starved of oxygen. When fresh air is suddenly introduced into a burning building by, it can cause the fire to suddenly flare up. Ventilation, when done by trained proffesionals, can help to prevent backdraft by ensuring that there is a steady supply of oxygen to the fire.

When do Firefighters Break Windows?

 Firefighters break windows when they believe that it will help them to extinguish the fire or rescue trapped occupants. They will also break windows if they need to create a safe entry point into the building OR a safe exit point if they need to bail (they have equipment and special knots for getting the heck out of a building quickly).

Firefighters will break windows in VES tactics. (Vent Enter Search) but only done strategically to quickly find victims and each time the room is quickly shut and isolated to prevent the flow path from reaching the room.

What are the risks of breaking windows?

 There are a few risks associated with breaking windows, including:

  • Cutting injuries: Firefighters can be injured by broken glass.
  • Falling hazards: If a window is broken on a high floor, firefighters could fall.
  • Spread of fire: If the window is broken in the wrong place, it could spread the fire.

Ventilation is an important part of firefighting. By breaking windows, firefighters can create ventilation and reduce the risk of backdraft. This helps them to extinguish the fire more quickly and safely.

When a fire starts, it creates a lot of heat and smoke. This smoke can be very dangerous for Firefighters, as it can obscure their vision and make it difficult to breathe. Breaking windows helps to ventilate the building, which reduces the amount of smoke and heat inside. This makes it safer for Firefighters to work and helps them to extinguish the fire more quickly. This is also one of the reasons you’ll see Ambulances show up with Fire Trucks to a Scene.

Overall- Breaking Windows is not an Exact Art

There are a lot of Factors to consider when breaking a window, and it’s why Firefighters put so much effort into Training, Securing the Right Equipment, going over Scenarios, creating plans of Residential and Commercial Buildings in their Jurisdiction, Establishing Communication Routines and Seeking Continued Education… because it is more than just ‘put the wet stuff on the hot stuff’.

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