By Bill Carey
1 January 2023
One of the many troubles in fire service education is words, particularly their definition and use. One word in particular is “abandoned.” The word has been used as an alternative to “vacant” and reasoning of our duty to search.
The trouble for the fire service with abandoned is that it associates it with occupancy instead of state of care,
– left without needed protection, care, or support
– left by the owner
– left to fall into a state of disuse
– no longer held or thought of ; given up
– forsaken or deserted
State of care is generally considered in the size-up of a burning structure and it is generally not a deal breaker for determining whether or not to search a burning structure, unless you are have experienced tragedy on a personal level involving abandoned buildings. That is the start of the problem, when the personal blurs the specific.
Whether or not we are personally attached because of tragedy or the need to overstate our duty, each one messes up using the words. The majority of articles on the subject across the major fire service websites use the words interchangeably, reinforcing the misuse. The statement “fires in vacant and abandoned buildings are dangerous,” is incorrect because it implies there are two types of buildings. One word refers to occupancy (vacant) and the other the condition (abandoned). The correct sentence is “fires in abandoned buildings are dangerous,” because of their obvious condition and our duty to search what we can deduce to be searchable and presumably survivable spaces.
“It’s not vacant until we say it is vacant,” is tossed out a lot in comments about fires in abandoned buildings when they are described as vacant buildings. Obviously a fire department is going to search for anyone inside, but the tallies of dead firefighters and rescued civilians does not do anything more then count bodies. Neither actually changes a definition.
“Vacant” should be dropped from use and “abandoned” should be used to describe the condition of structures and nothing more.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.