UK fire spread study in modern and alternative energy fuel vehicles in underground parking.

Chicago: Several vehicles burn in parking garage.

Vehicle fire in parking area underneath the structure damaged this building in Ocean City MD.

PG fires don't always involve vehicles. This fire was an electrical fire caught on surveillance video.

PG windows just add to the problem. A delay now has 3 vehicles burning with debri falling to the ground onto pedestrians below.

Like high-rise fires, reflex time is a factor with parking garage fires.

TIP: Fire departments carry anywhere from 1 1/2 single jacket high rise hose to 2 inch double jacket hose for standpipe operations. If several vehicles are on fire, consider using your 2' or 2 1/2 line off the standpipe. Standpipes are well capable of 250 GPM's.


Parking garage fires are not always going to be vehicles burning inside. At a 2014 fire in Dallas TX, three workers were killed in the basement of a parking garage under a high rise with 2800 employees working above. The workers killed were in the mechanical room in the thermal storage tank which is part of the HVAC system for the building.

 SIZE UP starts when the alarm comes in for a reason. In this incident, the company officers responding should already know while en route to the call that the buildings occupancy and time of day alone mean that thousands of employees are working, there's an underground parking garage, traffic and crowd control will be an issue with over 2500 panicking employees running out of the building at the site of thick black smoke below their offices. This also means that life safety/rescue is going to be the incident commanders top priority. Locating people in the large sized parking garage who may be overcome by deadly smoke will be a major task requiring additional resources. This fire went to 3 alarms. 

With no visibility and thick black smoke pouring out of the entrance/exit points of the garage, it is imperative to gather information on the location and extent of the fire from fleeing civilians, security officers, building maintenance crews, or activated fire protection systems if possible.

It's important that company officers fire preplan parking garages in their response area, especially underground parking areas. Know how to access them from inside the building and outside, positioning the engine close to the vehicle entrance point to see if it's possible to stretch in from the apparatus. Also look for any exhaust fans and mechanical rooms/pump rooms locations.

TIP:  Older parking garages may not have standpipes or sprinklers. Be prepared for portable standpipe operations, ladder placement, or long stretches for upper deck fires. Take into consideration any friction loss concerns. Preplan all of the parking garages in your response area on training day. How many are located under residential structures? Which ones don't have any standpipes? Which ones are attached to hospitals, office buildings, and target hazards? Are there solar panels on top deck?

TIP: It's not always necessary to connect to the floor below when using a standpipe in a parking garage, especially the roof deck. Multiple vehicle fires on parking garage roof decks under seven stories are ideal for aerial and tower ladder use. The standpipe and aerial/tower ladder methods should be used giving you Plan A and Plan B. 

Fires in parking garages are low frequency events, but when they do happen, we want to be prepared. Most fires in parking garages are vehicles burning inside. These PG fires can be difficult and will have some structure fire similarities. When one or more vehicles are burning inside of a fire-resistive structure, it warrants a structure assignment. A single engine company dispatched to a reported vehicle fire with no additional information may arrive to find a fully involved SUV with exposed vehicles on an upper deck of a parking garage. Call for more resources.

Fires in parking garages don't always involve a burning vehicle, as electrical fires can also occur in parking garages and originate in storage areas, mechanical rooms, EMR's, offices or solar panels. Additional incidents from EMS, stuck elevators, burst pipes to natural gas odors will also require a response from the fire department.

TIP: When attempting to locate the source of a natural gas or propane odor inside of a parking garage, check for parked CNG/LPG vehicles nearby. They require badging on the vehicle to identify CNG/LPG. It's possible that a release is coming from the cylinders in the trunk area. 

When engine companies are dispatched to vehicle fires, it's important for them to request additional manpower once it's determined to be inside, or on top of a parking garage. They should be familiar with the protection systems that are in place, the FDC location, and any other attached occupancy present. Knowing if the parking garage is under a residential high-rise, at a train station, or attached to a mall entrance will tell company officers what other problems to expect when arriving on scene.

Most parking garage fires will have vehicles burning inside of them so in addition to your parking garage concerns such as standpipe locations, access, location of fire, wind conditions, reflex time and vehicle exposures, you will still have your vehicle fire hazards to consider such as compressed air cylinders, airbags, struts, batteries, magnesium, and running fuel fires.

Always wear your SCBA and face piece when fighting vehicle fires whether inside of a PG structure or on the street.

REMEMBER: A vehicle burning inside of a fire-resistive parking garage is just as dangerous than a room and contents fire in a fire-resistive high-rise apartment. The dangers with an apartment fire are life hazards, limited ventilation, and that it's confined to a container. The dangers with a vehicle fire in a parking garage are low ceilings, running fuels, exploding struts, airbags, batteries and magnesium.

TIP: For parking garages and mid-rises in your response area, carry a plastic bottle with 50-75 ft of utility rope with attached carabineer for hoisting hand/supply lines up open stairwells, fire escapes, and exterior of building when standpipes are O.O.S, or not present.

Many parking garages have solar panels on the roof deck to power charging stations for customers and company vehicle fleets.  Now your parking garage vehicle fire strategy just changed. Look up on approach before your size up to see if any solar panels are present on the roof, or go out and look for them on training day. 

For CNG/LPG/Hybrid/Electric/FlexFuel vehicle fires, CLICK HERE.

Many parking garages are built adjacent to or directly under the structure. A parking garage underneath a building could pose many problems for a single engine company arriving to a reported car fire. Calling a structure assignment should be done immediately. Besides exposure problems, smoke may enter the building through open areas, elevator shafts, doors leading to lobbies, stores, hallways, and open residential exterior windows, setting off fire alarms all over the building. Employees, shoppers, residents on upper floors looking out the window may see the smoke and panic believing the building is on fire. People have clogged stairwells, escalators and elevators thinking it's the towering inferno. Additional manpower will make this operation much easier. These PG's are common at malls, hospitals, office buildings, arenas, and residential high rises.

RELATED: In December 2014, three people were killed in a thermal storage tank at a Dallas parking garage  in a mechanical equipment room located under a high rise office building. Approximately 2,800 employees had to evacuate the building.

SEVERAL vehicles burning, running fuel, explosions. Look for wind direction, ramp direction before committing.

Not all parking garages are fire resistive. Some will require a defensive attack. MUST SEE VIDEO.

Wasting Water: Not the best way to attack this fire considering there's 500 gallons of tank water and access to the garage. Stretch through there. 

Check the wind, ramp direction, and stairwell locations for standpipes access.

This mall PG had a running fuel fire resulting in SEVERAL cars burning.

Problems here are exposure to other vehicles, access, and low ceilings causing visibility problems.

What are the chances of this happening? HVAC fire on parking garage in Denver.  VIDEO

SCENARIO: It's 2pm on a Thursday, and you're the acting Lieutenant dispatched as a single engine company to a reported 'vehicle' on fire with no additional information. Upon arrival you have two vehicles fully involved and heavy black smoke coming from the third floor of a fully vehicle-occupied six story parking garage with no standpipe. Are your crew members prepared to QUICKLY place a line in service?  

After you request a structure assignment (or at least an extra engine) what actions do you take? Ask yourself;

*Do you go to a portable standpipe operation?

*Do you stretch a line up a ladder and over the wall?

*Is their a running fuel fire going down the ramp threatening other vehicles?

*Is their difficulty with visibility, finding the vehicles and stretching a line to reach them? 

*What size line do you stretch knowing you already have at least two vehicle fires in addition to delayed water supply and friction loss problems?

Option #1:If it's not that deep into the garage and the stretch is short, humping a dry 1 3/4 line up a ground ladder with two men isn't that difficult and is one option for this scenario. Your extra engine for water supply should have already been requested and dispatched. Having 500-700 gallons of tank water and a hand line capable with at least 150 GPM for these vehicle fires should do the job. (Magnesium-let it burn until supply received)  Option #2: For a long stretch, or more than 2 vehicles burning, grab some rope and the high-rise pack or a section of 1 3/4 hose with a nozzle, head up to the 3rd deck and lower the rope, hoisting up a 2 1/2 line over the wall with a gated wye, making your temporary standpipe. Option #3: Stretch the line up the stairwell. This will depend on the location of fire, distance, access, configuration, stairwell doors, and length of stretch needed to reach the fire. Option #4: Depending on manpower, or truck response, place an aerial up to the third floor for access, or run a handline off a tower ladder and stretch from there. Firemen aren't drones; there's more than one way to fight a fire. Have a plan A and B, and GET WATER ON FIRE = EVERYTHING BETTER.

Company officers should run these scenarios through their head BEFORE something like this happens when prefire planning parking garages in their response area, especially their first due district. These EXACT scenarios are rare occurrences, but they do happen. Go out and find that one parking garage without a standpipe, or the one with solar panels on the roof with electric hybrid cars plugged into charging stations. Find that parking garage under the residential building with storage cages, or the one attached to the mall entrance. Not all parking garages are the same, and we all want to be prepared for those rare events that occur in the fire service.