Underground car park intensive course: Understanding tactical principles and applying them in operational training drills

Even though underground car parks are underground transport systems, the operating conditions differ significantly from those of a fire in a tunnel. Therefore, full-time instructors, together with the Didactics and Development Team of the International Fire Academy, developed tactical principles and guidance on practical procedures for operations in underground car parks. They are taught in the underground car park intensive course.

Know the unique features of each underground car park

As with tunnels, the same applies to underground car parks: fire services must be familiar with these objects. Underground car parks can differ significantly in terms of structural design, safety installations and usage. Accesses are often not recognisable at first glance. Entrances and exits can be far apart. Storage rooms - for example, from shops - can be additional fire loads. Finally, the development above and around the underground car park is of utmost importance for a deployment. It has a significant impact on the tactical approach. The underground car park intensive course participants are therefore made aware of the relevant distinctions through educational posters.

Where are people particularly at risk?

The tactical considerations of the Didactics and Development Team were oriented towards the goals of the deployment and thus primarily towards the rescue of people. An internet search on fires in underground car parks revealed fundamental findings:

  • Fires in underground car parks repeatedly endangered people in buildings above the underground car park or in the immediate vicinity; people in these buildings were injured or lost their lives.
  • Firefighters were injured or killed by collapses while operating in underground car parks.
  • There may be many vehicles in an underground car park as there are in a tunnel alike at the time of a fire; however, a substantial difference is that there are usually only a few people in an underground car park at any given time.

From these findings, considerations for the tactical approach were deduced.

Understanding ventilation tactics

The basic procedure for an underground car park fire is the same as for a basement fire. This means: Stairwells and entrances are pressurised to prevent smoke from endangering people in the building. At the same time, it must be checked whether smoke escaping from the underground car park endangers people. For example, smoke can rise up the façade of a neighbouring building and enter shops or flats through openings. This must be prevented by tactical ventilation.

In the underground car park intensive course, the participants create a concept for tactical ventilation in two groups with the help of an overview plan of the training car park. The solutions presented are tested on the actual structure and then discussed. The effect of mobile fans is also observed during a walk-through of the underground car park filled with artificial smoke during a mobile fan operation. It allows the participants to experience how long it can take for tactical ventilation to have an effect, how the operating conditions for the firefighters improve and what influences the airflow.

Retreat when there is debris under your boots

In the incident of an underground car park fire, spalling must always be expected. In order to reduce the risk of (partial) collapse for emergency personnel, the International Fire Academy recommends structural cooling during fire attacks. In addition to the actual firefighting, it is the subject of a detailed lesson in the underground car park intensive course.

At the same time, the firefighters should pay attention to the extent of spalling - especially if they want to advance to the source of the fire in dense smoke. If they feel a lot of debris or grit under their boots, it means that there has been more severe spalling. Then the firefighters should retreat to a safe area.

Hose management support to secure the way back

The hose line also serves as a guide for the way back. In the case of large penetration depths, particular care must be taken to ensure that the line is stretched so that rapid withdrawal is possible even over long distances. In the hose management workshop, diverse options for creating and advancing with the hose line are demonstrated.

Search & Rescue in underground car parks

In the instance of a fire in a tunnel, fire services often have relatively favourable conditions for searching & rescuing people. In underground car parks, they encounter a different situation: Due to the low ceiling height, exceedingly high temperatures occur near the floor. Due to the resulting high heat load on the firefighters, search & rescue in dense smoke is often not possible at all.

Would it make sense to train search & rescue in underground car parks anyway? An evaluation of underground car park operations by the International Fire Academy revealed: Practically no case was found where people had been in a critical situation in an underground car park fire and had to be rescued by the fire service. Therefore, a special detailed lesson for search & rescue in the underground car park intensive course is omitted. In the operational training drills, search & rescue is trained when the operational conditions have improved.

Course dates

Up to 16 SCBA wearers can participate at a time. Participation requirements are a completed basic fire service training. Interest in tactical decision-making is desirable.

The International Fire Academy offers the intensive course underground parking on a regular basis. For individual participants, however, only in German for the time being.

By the way: Fire services can book the course for themselves for up to 20 firefighters.