One of the more challenging fires in a single family dwelling is a fire in a Balloon frame structure. Fires in these structures will tax manpower quickly. The main challenge is getting to the fire and cutting it off, if left unchecked fire can spread laterally as well as horizontally. Augustin Taylor introduced balloon frame construction in 1883. Taylor, a Chicago carpenter erected the St. Mary's church at Fort Dearborn. He used the idea to nail wall studs together rather than use a post and frame assembly method. With the advent of machine-made nails made it possible the throw up an entire wall at once without the skilled labor necessary to do the cutting and framing required for post and frame construction.
In balloon frame construction the studs run 2 or more stories high from the foundation to the eave line. The channel between the studs may be open from the cellar to the attic and the joist channels (floor) may be open from wall to wall.
A small fire in the basement can enter the stud channel and spread to the upper floors to the attic. The fire can burn in the floor destroying the integrity for the floor assembly thus leading to a collapse. A small exterior fire that penetrates the wall can run to the attic.
When faced with fire in these structures command officers must be prepared to put at least one enginnd one truck on each floor. Crews must bring tools to pull walls, ceilings and floors. Engine
companies must be ready to extinguish fires as the truck reveals it. Truck crews need to get to the roof and open it because fire will eventually reach the attic. Smoke will travel throughout the entire structure and may make it hard to find the origin of the fire. A thermal imager camera will assist with finding the seat of the fire.
Communities that have many balloon frame construction may have special tools to help combat fires in the stud channels. The navy nozzle with a 90 degree pipe can get into the stud channels and apply water up and down quickly.
Personnel must recognize balloon frame structures. All areas of the structure must be checked, this includes the basement and the attic. These firs are labor intensive. Without adequate manpower fires can spread quickly and risk major property damage and possible firefighter injuries. Line officers and Command officers need to call for manpower early in the incident.