This two-part column looks at those times when we know at there is potential violence and when we do NOT know. We look at a working vehicle fire in Missouri at which a firefighter was shot and killed, a house fire in New York where firefighters conducting a search “found a victim aiming a gun at...
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On Saturday evening, Nov. 20, 2010, the West Babylon Fire Department (WBFD) in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY, was activated by the Babylon Central Fire & Rescue Alarm Center for a “Signal 13” general alarm, automatic fire alarm, at a single-family dwelling at 4th Street and 9th Avenue. First Assistant Chief Jim Campbell was first due, followed by Second Assistant Chief Pete McArdle. They reported nothing showing, and in fact discussed with each other that they had been there two weeks earlier when the homeowner was somewhat eccentric and would not allow access to investigate an alarm caused by the homeowner working on his oil burner.
At this call, Campbell established command while McArdle approached the front door to investigate. When McArdle attempted to ring front doorbell, he reported to command that he smelled smoke and that the window was hot. Third Assistant Chief Christine Manzi arrived on scene and immediately performed a 360-degree size-up at the request of command. Manzi reported to command and confirmed she had a fire within the residence, in the center of the home from exposure C.
First-due Engine 1-9-2 was directed to stretch primary and backup lines to the front door to meet McArdle. Second-due Engine 1-9-6 was directed to hit the hydrant to provide a positive water supply to Engine 1-9-2 and send manpower to the front door. Truck 1-9-15 was directed to stay on the avenue side of the structure and send search teams and a forcible-entry team to McArdle at the front door. Suffolk County police officers arrived on the scene and Campbell advised them there was a confirmed fire and forcible entry would occur. This run started as a very routine automatic alarm, but it was anything but routine.
The forcible-entry team opened front door and a primary line was advanced into the structure, to the left toward the fire. The search team entered the home and took a right-hand lead down a hallway toward the bedroom area of the home. Just as the attack line started to hit the fire, the search team entered one of the bedrooms. With the house on fire and smoke conditions existing, the occupant of the home was on a bed. He suddenly sat up and pointed a shotgun at the search team and told them to get out of his house. The search team immediately retreated, screaming a warning into the radio: “Gun!”
Outside, as the word “gun” suddenly went out over the radio, both search teams and the attack team rapidly retreated from the building. The scene was understandably frantic. Suddenly, the sound of breaking glass occurred, startling everyone staging away from the house. The occupant of the home was breaking the hallway window out with the butt of the shotgun.
Command issued an order for everyone to take cover behind apparatus, as the occupant jumped from the window clutching the shotgun. All fire service members scrambled and jumped through hedges to find safety behind the apparatus. Command immediately put all other responding units, mutual aid units and the rapid intervention team on a “Signal 9” (stand by) several blocks away and asked dispatch for a major Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) emergency response forthwith, as responders were dealing with an emotionally disturbed person (EDP) with a weapon running around the scene.
SCPD responded in with approximately 10 patrol cars and Emergency Service Section units. Police officers ran toward the scene with weapons drawn. A chase ensued and command ordered all fire personnel to remain under cover until police had the threat under control. Several tense minutes later, gunshots were heard a block or two away. Dispatch advised command that SCPD reported the perpetrator was down and the police were requesting a fire department ambulance forthwith at 6th Street and 8th Avenue. Command sent ambulance 1-9-7 to that location, where the crew found the man who had moments earlier threatened firefighters with a gun now cuffed on the ground and suffering from several gunshot wounds. Ambulance 1-9-7 treated, packaged and transported the perpetrator to Good Samaritan Hospital, where he died from his injuries several days later.
Command then issued orders to McArdle to proceed with extinguishment and investigation activities with extreme caution, as it was known that the occupant was eccentric and obviously disturbed. The fear of possible booby-traps was on everyone’s mind. The attack team reentered the structure and extinguished the remaining fire. It was found that the occupant had set fire to the living room furniture with camping fuel. It was found that all of the doors in the home had padlocks installed on them, so it took an extensive amount of time to investigate safely with the fire department, fire marshal and SCPD.