Metal Roofs Pose Problems For County Firefighters

MAYVILLE – Two recent fires in Chautauqua County involving metal roofs have raised a potential problem for area firefighters.

In fact, fire officials say the durable material used in roofing is becoming more common as residents turn to alternative options.

However, as highlighted with recent blazes in Sinclairville and Westfield, metal roofs – most of which are advertised as flame resistant – are making it harder to fight fires.

“There certainly is a challenge for firefighters with the metal roofs,” said Julius Leone, Chautauqua County fire coordinator. “These roofs are becoming more common, which they used to be years ago. There has been a trend to go back to more of them.”

Leone said modern metal roofs are being built on top of existing asphalt material – forming 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.

“It’s definitely more challenging to cut all the way through,” Leone said. “And picture being up there on a slippery metal roof compared to an asphalt roof.”

Recent fires involving metal roofs are drawing focus to the dangers faced by firefighters.

On Saturday, crews from several fire department battled a Westfield blaze that sent six people to the hospital. According to the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department, first responders at 6:45 a.m. were notified of a four-apartment structure fire located at 19 Cottage St. in Westfield.

Five residents within the apartment complex were taken to Westfield Hospital for non-life threatening injuries and later released; one resident was transported to Erie County Medical Center for smoke inhalation.

According to fire officials, combustible items placed near a heat source caused the fire. Due to renovations and additions to the apartment complex, firefighters had trouble attacking the fire.

Metal roofing on portions of the apartments also made it difficult to douse the early morning fire.

“With multiple roofs and tin roofing on part of it, that kept a lot of the fire inside the attic area,” said Stephen Pacanowski, Westfield fire chief. “It was hard to get to for at least an hour.”

He added: “Tin roofs hold in the heat. A normal shingle roof would burn through a lot quicker. When crews go inside with a tin roof, it’s a lot hotter. We have saws to cut through it, but it is harder.”

A house fire in Sinclairville on Dec. 29 also posed problems for firemen.

“The biggest problem was the tin roof,” said Doug Goodwill, Sinclairville first assistant fire chief. “The fire got in between the tin roof and the roof itself. Not knowing how many layers of shingles were on there, we were ripping off the tin to get in between it and put the fire out.”

Asked what could be done to avoid injuries as a result of the metal roofs, Leone pointed to rigorous training for first responders. “We’re always training as things evolve. You always have to be prepared.”

Matt Spielman contributed to this story.