Close Calls: A "Bad Day" on the Fireground – Part 1

A fire department in Texas had a “bad day” on the fireground, with two firefighters suffering burn injuries, but there is no question it could have been much worse. However, because the officers and members took a critical look at what happened at...


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The weather was a tactical factor due to strong winds out of the north. Rather than going in from the north through the garage (side D), command assessed that the crew could safely go in from the east through the residence (side A) and stop the fire in the garage without pushing it through the building. This decision was reaffirmed by the lack of smoke in the structure when the crews from Hutto Engines 1 and 2 made entry into the occupancy. Within a short period, command was advised of the acetylene bottle, noticed a distinct change in worsening smoke conditions and ordered a withdrawal from interior firefighting operations. At that time, the acetylene cylinder flashed the smoke-charged garage and fire enveloped the crew. Immediately, the crew began to crawl back through the garage to the utility/garage door. As the firefighters retreated from the garage, they closed the utility/garage door behind them, confining the fire to the garage.

Two firefighters, identified as Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2, were transported to the emergency room. Firefighter 1 was released to return to work with just minor burns to his arm and face. Firefighter 2 was released, but was not allowed to return to work due to second-degree burns to his neck, ears and mid-forearm.

All of the interior crews were wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE) properly. There was no failure of any PPE on either of the injured firefighters. The PPE did its job; it limited the severity of the injuries. When looking at the combination of each firefighter’s hood, helmet and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) facepiece, it can be seen where the heat, fire and embers rained down on these two individuals.

The initial injury examination identified the following:

1. Firefighter 1 – The burn on his arm was due to conducted heat through the coat to the snap between the liner and the outer shell. This in turn conducted heat to the firefighter. Minor burns to the face/neck area were from the buckles on the SCBA facepiece and heat/flames to the hood.

2. Firefighter 2 – The burns on both arms mid-forearm were from conduction through the coat and making contact between the skin and the liner. There was no failure of the glove wristlet/coat-sleeve gauntlet. Again, the only burns were to the mid-forearm, but there was no damage to the sleeves of the coat. As for his ears and neck, the burns were from fire, embers and heat directly to the hood.

After further examination of the PPE and the injuries, individual written reports from each firefighter of Hutto Engines 1 and 2, as well as reenacting the events on the scene, the following was determined:

1. Burn injuries to the arms of Firefighter 2 were actually caused by steam due to their location, the firefighter’s position on the nozzle and the condition of the PPE.

2. Only one firefighter had a radio when making entry. Each firefighter had a radio at his apparatus seat, but did not pick it up before entering the building.

3. This incident occurred at shift change with mixed crews. Not everyone was in their complete uniform nor was their complete gear on the truck when the tones dropped.

4. Firefighter 2 had a thinner National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)-compliant hood than Firefighter 1.

Next: Questions and recommendations

 

On behalf of my family to you and yours, I wish each of you a happy, safe and healthy 2012 and I look forward to seeing you soon.