Modern metal roofs are often built on top of existing asphalt material which forms additional layers for firemen to cut through when ventilating a house fire. Without an escape, smoke and heat remain trapped within the residence, creating an unsafe environment for firefighters.
Coal Creek Fire and Rescue Chief Judd Meharry has concerns with metal roofs and firefighters’ safety.
“You could see that the guys on the roof trying to cut a hole for ventilation were having trouble maintaining good traction,” Meharry said. “A wet metal roof is slippery and we are wearing rubber boots that make it hard to gain a footing.”
Crawfordsville Fire Department Larry Patton agrees with Meharry, saying metal roofing can cause numerous problems when combating a burning structure.
“Walking on a metal roof could be the equivalent of walking on a built-up roof with ice on it. Because it is metal it tends to be more slippery. Our whole purpose for being up on the roof is to gain access, and release those super-heated gases or flames so we can get the fire out,” Patton said.
Metal roofs require special cutting tools, and they can hide the location of the fire inside and its true intensity.
During the recent Wingate call volunteer firefighters were forced to wait for the Crawfordsville Fire Department to arrive with a large round circular saw to vent the roof. The time it took to get the saw to cut through the roof gave firefighters no chance to reduce the loss of property. The damage sustained to the house was considered a total loss.
Metal roofs are lighter and the supporting materials also may be lighter, which can cause the roof to fall down faster than most standard roofs. Meharry said the way a metal roof is installed can cause problems.
“Usually all the contractor uses is a one-by-one strip of wood to attach the metal roofing to,” Patton said. “A firefighter has no idea what is under the roof or how stable the roof is, simply because we cannot see existing problems like we can with shingled roofs.”
Homeowners considering a metal roof over shingles generally are looking for financial savings. Metal roofing is expected to last longer than asphalt shingles. However, when considering the increased safety risk during a fire, the savings might not be worth it.
“Metal roofs are great, until you have a fire,” Patton said.
Monday’s residential fire originated in a utility room. The State Fire Marshal deemed the blaze electrical in nature and it was ruled accidental. The four family members who were home at the time of the blaze and one volunteer firefighter were transported to Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health – Crawfordsville for evaluation and treatment of smoke inhalation, Meharry said.