This two-part column looks at those times when we know 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...
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The unavoidable: Missouri firefighter shot and killed at a vehicle fire
The intent of this close call piece is to help us identify what clearly is avoidable and what is not. When we have any information that a scene may be violent, we must stage away from the scene and await orders from the police.
Of course, our intent is to help people – when we have the right tools, equipment and conditions. When we have information that the scene may be a “bad” one, the police tell us when it is safe – and no one else. Our instincts that “it may be safe” are nonsense. The scene is not until the police say it is. Unfortunately, some situations that occur to us are unavoidable.
One such case occurred in the early morning of July 21, 2008, when the Maplewood, MO, Fire Department (MFD) received a call for a vehicle fire in a residential neighborhood at 5:40 A.M. This was 22-year-old Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan Hummert’s first fire call. Ryan began his career in August 2007 after graduating from paramedic training. He had just graduated from the St. Louis County Fire Academy in March.
The MFD responded, not unlike any of us would, to the reported truck on fire. What happened when firefighters arrived was unimaginable – a psycho began shooting at them from a house window. The shooter had deliberately set the fire.
Firefighters saw the back of a pickup truck burning and stretched a line, having no idea a gun was aimed at them. Within moments of arrival, a bullet struck and killed Ryan, Maplewood’s youngest firefighter, in the line of duty. No warning. Nothing other than the back of a pickup truck burning. “Shots fired. Firefighter killed in the line of duty.” Two police officers, Adam Fite and Sergeant Mike Martin, were shot and wounded. A crew of Maplewood firefighters and several police officers found themselves in the line of fire and risked their lives that day to save their colleagues and protect residents from a pathological sniper who ultimately took his own life. The members of the MFD will never forget the day that their newest firefighter/paramedic, the son of their former mayor, truly a “hometown” kid, was murdered on arrival at a truck fire.
There was no indication a truck on fire would offer any risks to firefighters or police officers other than the predictable roadway risks and the risks of a burning vehicle. As they responded, they were doing what you and I would do – thinking about apparatus placement, blocking the road, exposures and putting water on the fire. Nothing could have prepared them for the murder of one of their own.
About the MFD: The Maplewood Fire Department has 21 full-time members, consisting of a chief and three crews of six firefighters each and a swingman. All members are firefighter/EMTs or firefighter/paramedics. One member is a fire marshal and building inspector.
“Routine” search: Firefighters find a victim – with a gun aimed at them
On Saturday evening, Nov. 20, 2010, the West Babylon, NY, Fire Department (WBFD) 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 the 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.