As an aspiring firefighter, you’ll learn a lot of terms to prepare you for your career. Fire overhaul is one term you’ll undoubtedly hear as you progress through your education and training. What exactly does a fire overhaul mean and why do you need to know about it?

A fire overhaul is a firefighting technique where a firefighter looks for hidden indications of fires or ongoing fires on the premises. If the firefighter deems the area clear, they’ll have an IC assess the extinguishment before leaving the premises.

In today’s article, we’ll look deeper into fire overhauls, including a full description of what they are and why they’re such an important part of firefighting. Make sure you keep reading, as you won’t want to miss the great info we have to come. 

What Is a Fire Overhaul?

A fire overhaul, which some refer to as an overhaul, is one job of many a firefighter has to complete before they can deem a scene safe enough to leave.

Overhaul happens after the fire has been “knocked down” and completely extinguished.

During an overhaul, a firefighter or a team of firefighters will assess the area. By now, they’ve put out the fire, but that doesn’t mean they’ve fully mitigated the threat. 

The area could have fire indicators about or even hidden fires, and that’s what an overhaul focuses on.

Even if a firefighter uses standard fire suppression measures, that doesn’t always mean they catch every pocket of fire. Similarly, a team can miss hidden fires due to their very nature.

As the name implies, a hidden fire isn’t immediately detectable. For example, a fire that burns under debris counts as a hidden fire, as does a fire that’s in a construction void. 

As part of an overhaul, the firefighter(s) will search the entire scene, looking for these hidden fires. They’re also searching for hot spots, which are areas where a hidden fire has not yet started but could without remediation. 

The firefighter(s) will open construction voids, disturb debris, and look in other unexpected areas to determine if a fire still lingers. If they spot any areas of decomposition, including in the ceilings, floors, or walls of a building, they’ll inspect it.

No area is too small for an inspection, including electrical outlets, light fixtures, conduits, straps, ties, wood-to-metal connections, window and door casings, baseboards, air conditioning registers and vents, and wooden door jambs. 

The firefighter(s) will rely on accessories such as Halligan tools, pike poles, axes, foam applicators, and thermal imaging cameras or TICs to assist them during a fire overhaul. Some of these tools detect fires and others can stop them. 

Once the firefighter(s) feel reasonably sure that no more hidden fire threats remain, they’ll leave the premises and be on to the next job. 

Why Is a Fire Overhaul Important? 

Fire overhauls are hugely important for various reasons, so let’s go over them now. 

Securing the Scene

If firefighters haven’t fully secured a scene before leaving, they haven’t done their job. In investigating hidden fires during an overhaul, the fire department ensures they’ve left no stone unturned – quite literally, in this case. 

Preserving Evidence

Arson crimes are hard to prove for a variety of reasons. Eyewitnesses are often few and far between, and the lack of evidence that an incendiary fire leaves in its wake makes it hard to make heads or tails of whether the fire happened intentionally.

Firefighters can preserve more evidence through fire overhauls. This enables police to come in after the fire department has safely secured the scene and start their investigation.

The more usable evidence the police have, the higher the likelihood of prosecution. 

Controlling Loss

Hidden fires can continue wreaking devastation after the fire department leaves. If the structure that had sustained the original fire didn’t fall then, it surely will after a hidden fire further weakens the structure.

By mitigating hidden fires, the fire department can adequately control loss. 

Preventing Secondary Fires

A secondary fire is often smaller than the original fire, but it starts from the first fire rather than through any property or human involvement. 

Secondary fires might not burn to the same extent, but they’re fires and thus can still cause damage. As we mentioned before, the building that experienced the original fire will likely not survive a secondary fire. 

On top of that, secondary fires can also spread to nearby structures and buildings, engulfing them and risking the loss of human life and property. 

Fire overhauls limit the rate of secondary fires. 

Keeping Firefighters Safe 

It’s not safe for firefighters to be in an environment where they believe they’ve put out a fire but haven’t. A fire overhaul will secure the area for firefighters so they can safely exit.

Other personnel who have to step in later can also safely do so.  

Who’s Responsible for Doing a Fire Overhaul? 

Floor-unit firefighters closest to the area should commit to a fire overhaul when in a building they believe has a reasonable risk of hidden fires. However, they won’t work alone.

The incident commander or IC will enter the building at the end of the overhaul. An IC doesn’t fight fires themselves but is on hand at their command post for just these kinds of occasions.

They will confirm whether the firefighters have sufficiently overhauled the area. If not, the team will take a second crack at it, and the IC will come back when they’re ready. 

The IC will also schedule walk-through or drive-by post-incident inspections of the building if the incident warrants it.  

A fire overhaul is a firefighting technique involving a firefighter or a team of firefighters inspecting an area and looking for hidden fires. Only when addressing and ultimately extinguishing hidden fires can a firefighter say the area is safe. 

Overhauls involve firefighters and sometimes ICs, who may schedule and be present for inspections of the area. 

Since fire overhauls preserve life and structures, stop secondary fires, and preserve evidence in the case of arson, they’re a hugely valuable skill for any firefighter to learn when in the academy. 

If you haven’t received any overhaul training, ask your chief. They should be willing to help you out!