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When we take in a run, we rarely think about ourselves – that’s the nature of being a firefighter. However, when we pause and think about those we care about, we gain a little perspective.
Take a look in your wallet at the pictures of the people who worry about you. Without question, our families, friends and other loved ones know we are in a risky business. It is, however, important that we understand the difference between a necessary risk and one not so or definitely not necessary. If something happens to us when we are doing what we are supposed to, the way we are trained, the way our policies dictate and our officers direct – that is truly doing our job.
There are, however, occasions when we just do what we want to do and end up hurting ourselves with total disregard for those whose pictures are in our wallets – and who count on us and expect us to do what we should do. Understanding that they count on us to get home after the shift or the run often helps us understand why training, discipline and accountability are essential to our jobs and our ability to survive and minimize the chances of our family members living without us. In cases when the dispatcher reports that people may be trapped, our training, abilities and discipline are tested to their limits. Fortunately, Firefighter Blaise Steffen of the Peoria, IL, Fire Department had all of these qualities – especially some excellent training.
We extend our appreciation to the officers and members of the Peoria Fire Department, specifically, to Firefighter Steffen and his wife, Shannon, for both of their very personal accounts. Firefighter Steffen’s account was in last month’s column.
As was reported last month, Firefighter Steffen and his crew were awakened around 12:30 A.M. by tones sounding the alarm for a basement fire with a person possibly trapped. Firefighter Steffen and his captain went through the front door to search for the homeowner in zero visibility, little to no heat, in a cluttered environment. His captain told him to turn around and follow the hoseline out so they could set up ventilation. As they headed back out, they heard air horns signaling for everyone to evacuate. Just as Firefighter Steffen was making his way through the front room, fire shot up beside him.
Thinking room contents were on fire, he stopped to tell the captain they had fire as he did not want the engine crew to become trapped inside. He was following the hoseline when he saw the outline of the doorway six to eight feet away. He was taking a step toward it when the floor suddenly fell away under him. As he fell, all he could see was fire and all he could feel was unbearable heat. His only thought was no, not here.
He crawled over into a corner as far from the fire as possible and curled up to shield himself from the heat. All of a sudden, he recalled, the heat went from unbearable to tolerable – and that’s when his training kicked in. He tried to call a “Mayday,” but his radio microphone had been ripped away when he fell. He was feeling his way on a wall when his airpack clicked. He was breathing very hard. He slowed his breathing, taking slow, steady breaths. As he felt what he thought was the bottom of some stairs, he was hit on the back by a hose stream. It cooled him off and he immediately turned and headed straight into the stream as fast as he could. He saw a light shining in a window. He reached up to the window and suddenly was lifted up and pulled halfway out. He was tangled in wires, but a captain cut him free and he was pulled the rest of the way out.
After his gear was removed, the pain kicked in. He was placed in an ambulance and transported to a hospital, later moving to a burn unit.
On numerous occasions, Firefighter Steffen remarked about the incredible support he received during his recovery from his brother and sister firefighters – but most importantly from his wife. “I know,” he said, “that none of it could have happened without the great training, the support from my wife and the grace of God.”