Wealthier communities with no fire hydrants require different firefighting tactics

A recent house fire in a large Barrington Hills home illustrates the issues present in fighting fires in wealthier suburbs:

In all, 40 fire companies from departments as far away as Hebron, Des Plaines, Hanover Park and West Chicago converged on Barrington Hills April 18 to blast the fire with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. But instead of hooking their hoses to nearby hydrants, all of that water had to be brought in from elsewhere in trucks, ratcheting up the degree of difficulty for firefighters.

“Having to bring water in on wheels is time-consuming,” said Deputy Chief Rich May of the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District. “The planning behind it is done quite well, but you can’t move it like tapping into a fire hydrant. There’s just no comparison.”…

“Years ago we had a lot of natural-based materials in houses,” he said. “Nowadays, with all of the synthetic products in the homes, such as plastics, they burn hotter and burn faster.”

That means houses burn hotter and collapse sooner, Giordano added…

Given the village’s lack of water system and regulations requiring minimum lot sizes of 5 acres, it’s not likely Barrington Hills residents will see hydrants near their homes anytime soon. However, fire officials said there are some steps homeowners can take to help make firefighters’ jobs easier.

In other words, the wealthier nature of the community led to a lack of fire hydrants. This is a bit odd because homeowners here could probably afford the costs of a full water system but would not have wanted to pay the costs for it which were exacerbated by the large lot sizes. Yet, when they need to put out a fire, doesn’t this lack of paying upfront for the water system lead to financial consequences down the road? One of the suggestions in this article – sprinklers within each home – would help keep homeowners more responsible for fighting fires in homes built in such settings.

See earlier posts about the unique challenges of fighting fires in large homes or McMansions.

Local fire department plans for a potential fire at a 30,000 square foot home

How exactly does a fire department plan for a new 30,000 square foot home in the community?

A planned 30,000-square-foot home off Lake Norman would take an estimated 10,000 gallons of water per minute and dozens of firefighters on the scene if it were to go up in flames…

Modern homes of all sizes offer new threats now that open floor plans are more desirable to compartmentalized rooms, which would keep the fire more contained in years past, said Charlotte Fire Department Deputy Fire Marshal Jonathan Leonard of Davidson. What once could have stayed in the kitchen, now quickly passes through much of the first floor before moving upstairs if there is nothing to stop it.

Furniture, once only constructed of cotton, wood and metal, is now plastic, vinyl and foam that is more flammable, burning hotter and faster. Those two elements cut the estimated time for a home’s flashover point to occur from the 18 minutes firefighters had 20 years ago, to just over four, Leonard said.

That’s four minutes for families to have a smoke detector go off, call 911 and get out…

A simple solution that would be a safety net for both residents and firefighters is a sprinkler system.

I wonder if some communities would tell owners of extra-large homes that they would do all that they could to put out a fire but the municipality wouldn’t incur extra costs to adjust just for these extra-large houses. How much should a fire department adjust for a few homes? While this article suggests McMansions have these fire problems, a 30,000 square foot home is way out of McMansion league and probably does require its own planning. At 30,000 square feet, sprinklers sound like a good option.

Now that I’ve seen a few articles about this issue, I wonder if this comes up in the planning and zoning process in communities. While building homes may seem like a source of revenue for communities, they also require services including water, sewer, roads, fire and police, and schools. Could you add a special fire tax that only hits huge homes?

Preparing firefighters for McMansion fires

Two firefighters discuss how to go about tackling McMansion fires:

“There are a lot of unique features to consider,” Lt. Duckworth said. “As these things start popping up around your response area, you can’t just think of them as slightly bigger homes. You have to take an entirely different approach.”

Chief Wylie said pre-planning is the answer.

“Most people wouldn’t mind you going around their house and taking measurements,” Chief Wylie said. “As far as distances for hose lays, using preconnects, places to do ventilation, all of these things can be pre-planned just as you would on a commercial building.”


Here are some of the particular issues McMansions pose: lots of square feet to cover (and they do expand the size of a McMansion in this talk as something much larger than 4,000 square feet and up to 20-30,000 square feet); long driveways that require a lot more hose to reach the front door, let alone the rest of the house; faster movement of fire through big open floor plans; and houses that are often close together. One of the firefighters suggests McMansions are more like commercial buildings in their size and the way they are built.

I wonder how this affects home insurance rates…