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Driveway Access Grades

March 2, 2012

We fought a fire last week that presented some challenges.  I’ve written before about ensuring your driveway is something our trucks can negotiate.  One thing people sometimes neglect is grade.

This house was situated with a gorgeous view at the top of a ridge.  The driveway was 1200’ long and included about 150’ of elevation change.  In three places grade was 25-28%.  The fire occurred one day after we’d accumulated about 3-4” of snow and the temperatures were low.  The fire had been discovered by the homeowner and everyone was out of the building.  First arriving engines saw the fire and smoke plume from about a mile out.  The first arriving engine could not make it all the way up the driveway.  That engine got stuck and had to back down.  The next arriving engine was a little smaller and taking a run at it, was able to get up the hill to the home and initiate fire attack.

The structure was large and fire operations went on for some time.  All of the water we were throwing on that fire drained down hill and froze on the driveway slope.  Hauling equipment, spare air bottles and personnel (I had to haul the investigators and their tools) up the hill was treacherous and could only be accomplished with four-wheel-drive SUVs.  Coming down that hill was a skating rink.

We often get asked to sign off on driveway designs that access home perched on top of hills and ridges.  These homes have awesome views!  We don’t sign off on driveways that exceed 12-14% grade.  We just can’t guarantee that our apparatus can get to your house under wintertime conditions with driveways steeper than that.

In our business, you call us when you really need us.  When it takes us extra time to get to your house, that costs you somehow and we don’t like that.  In a fire situation, delayed response means more damage to your home.  In a heart attack situation (we use the same trucks for first-aid delivery too) delayed response means your heart suffers greater damage.  Think it over, and if your driveway exceeds the grades we can negotiate, you may want to consider some re-design.

If you’ve got questions about your driveway and accessibility, call me at 466-4602, or e-mail me at, or you can leave a comment on this blog.


From → Fire Prevention

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