An American firefighter explained the specific challenges facing the Paris fire brigade in tackling the huge fire that broke through the ancient Notre Dame cathedral in Paris last night.
The fire was brought under control late on Monday after consuming the iconic spire and much of the roof, leaving millions – including the US president – wondering how it could have spread so quickly.
According to the former St. Louis firefighter, Gregg Favre, the efforts of the fire brigade would be hampered by the limited access to the building, as well as by the age and design of the nearly 900 year old structure.
A major fire broke out in the distinctive Notre-Dame cathedral in central Paris on Monday, with the flames and huge gray clouds of smoke rippling in the air.
Firefighters fought for hours to stop not only the immediate danger to life, but also to preserve the cathedral and the priceless treasures that the house houses.
As the world watched the horrific incident take place, President Donald Trump tweeted aboard Air Force One to suggest the use of flying water tankers to extinguish the flames.
During a speech at his Tax Day event in Missouri later in the day, Trump expressed his surprise that the fire was burning at a level that you rarely see a fire burning.
In a thinly veiled reprimand to the President, the French Civil Protection Agency testified that: & All means are used, with the exception of water bombardment aircraft, which, if used, can lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral. & # 39;
President Trump suggested using air tankers while tweeting about the fire on the way to Missouri from Air Force One
Sécurité Civile seemed to defeat President Trump's suggestion by explaining in her only English-language tweet about the Notre Dame disaster why the use of water bombing aircraft was not used to tackle the eruption
After seeing videos of the social media outburst, Favre – who was a former director of the Missouri Department of Security – tried to explain some of the more technical aspects of the custody effort, as well as the professional procedure that the fire department had had to follow.
& # 39; The first problem is how old churches are built, heavy wooden structures with large open spaces and very few (if they are in a church like Notre Dame) the fire stops ”, he wrote on Monday evening.
A firestop is a form of passive fire protection that is used to seal openings and joints in a wall or floor and to prevent the spread of fire in modern buildings. Construction on Notre started in 1163.
With a structure as large as Notre Dame, normal methods of stopping the spread of fire are all – but impossible.
Gregg Favre, a former firefighter and director of the Missouri Department of Security, tweeted some of his professional observations about the fire on Monday night and why it couldn't be stopped immediately
& # 39; In fire fighting there is something that a & # 39; is called & # 39; and that in fact opens a large roof from top to gutter, so that there is room to stop the fire from spreading, & # 39; wrote Favre.
& # 39; Given the height of the cathedral roof and the advanced fire conditions, this is an unlikely option in the main part of the building.
& # 39; Even if airways (think of a hook and ladders with pre-pumped hoses) can reach the roof line, it's hard to see how they get an angle that would get water on the fire – it's just too high.
& # 39; So this means that you have to bring firemen inside … a completely different problem. The primary option is large 2.5 "fire hoses.
Favre did not mention President Trump in his tweets, but his post came hours after Trump suggested using water bombing planes to tackle the flames – which, according to French security officials, could later have destroyed the entire age-old structure
& # 39; These are heavy, hard to maneuver and against such a fire, largely ineffective.
Favre added that firefighters are reluctant to use this option because it means that responders must be placed in the building when the heavy timber roof collapses around them.
& # 39; Life safety is always the first priority, even in historical monuments, & # 39; he wrote.
The flames and smoke splashed from the spire and the roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people every year, currently undergoing renovations.
American firefighter Gregg Favre (photo) said after watching videos from the social media fire that the volume of the flames and heavy, moving smoke pointed to a fire that is advanced, and he would be substantial if not total expect a loss for the roof
There is also a question of accountability, and countless questions that responders must answer on the spot before they form their plans.
& # 39; NotreDame underwent a renovation. This means that there were more people than normal. Is the cathedral staff completely gone? The construction workers? Visitors? & # 39;
& # 39; If nothing suspected, where were they and how many? What does a rescue workgroup look like? How many responders do you place in an extra harmful way for unconfirmed reports? & # 39;
Favre pointed out that firefighters must follow strict procedures and assess the risk before fighting a fire
Only when all these questions have been definitively answered can firemen really tackle the fire.
Putting out a fire means removing one of the core elements needed to burn: oxygen, fuel, heat and a chemical chain reaction. But Favre explained the difficulties in each of these scenarios.
& # 39; The removal of the fuel is not permitted. Churches have no lack of combustible things, & he wrote.
& # 39; The heat that makes a fire so great is enormous. Few options to interrupt that. The chemical chain reaction is disabled for the races. That horse left the stable in the first five minutes. & # 39;
The fire claimed the spire and much of the roof of Notre Dame, but the fire brigade had to ensure that if it fell sideways, the fire would not spread to other buildings and the lives of people would not be in danger
& # 39; That leaves the oxygen behind. Unfortunately, even if the roof had not burned down, churches are almost impossible to control the ventilation. Their design is to be open and airy. Great for Sunday worship, terrible for spreading the fire.
& # 39; I would be concerned about building materials that are not normally found in churches (because it was under renovation). Things that can explode, things that don't like to be hit with water, Hazardous materials that can flow out / go into the air, etc. & # 39;
Ultimately, Favre said that officials should think about what would happen after the inevitable collapse of part of the building.
There was no guarantee that the steeple and the roof would come in and fall straight down – they could stagger aside and have ignited other buildings or houses.
& # 39; Have the streets in the collapse zone been cleared?, & # 39; he wrote. & # 39; From both spectators and responder / trucks? Other buildings threatened?
& # 39; As a fireman, Catholic and human, this fire is heartbreaking & # 39 ;, Favre wrote in his last tweet on Monday night
If a wall of fire comes down, then what [is] the plan to fight THAT fire? & # 39;
In short, the degree of damage to a building depends on a number of factors beyond the control of firefighters – including wind conditions, access of respondents and water supply, as well as the threat level for firefighters and civilians.
In the case of Notre Dame, the unique features of such an old building would have exacerbated each of these problems.
Now that the fire has been suppressed, experts must assess the burned-out scale and plan the next steps to preserve the structure
This morning, experts are assessing the black scale of the cathedral to take the next steps to preserve what remains. Now the fire is under control, the focus is on guaranteeing the structural integrity of the remaining building.
Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez announced that architects and other experts will meet early in the Tuesday & # 39; to determine if the structure is stable and whether the firefighters can go in to continue their work. & # 39;
Officials regard fire as an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work on the global architectural treasure, but that news has done nothing to alleviate national mourning.