Danger at a Residential Basement Fire

  There are no shortages of close calls, or worse, related to basement fires in single-family dwellings. In just the past few years, several firefighters have died in the line of duty as a result of operating in such fires. From floor collapse to...


  There are no shortages of close calls, or worse, related to basement fires in single-family dwellings. In just the past few years, several firefighters have died in the line of duty as a result of operating in such fires. From floor collapse to disorientation to delays in getting water...


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Assistant Chief Brandon Frieder was assigned as the Division 1 supervisor and we immediately agreed on a plan while he was donning his PPE (personal protective equipment) next to my command car. Our Prince George's County general orders provide for two options when dealing with basement fires in single-family dwellings — the first-due engine can either "make the stairs" or "hold the stairs." Based on the fire conditions, we directed the first-due engine to attack the fire on Division 1 and hold the stairs. The third-due engine company would be directed to attack the basement fire from the exterior entrance on Side Charlie.

The first-due engine (Engine 812, with a crew of six firefighters) took their own hydrant about 100 feet short of the house and advanced their line to the front door as other companies began to arrive. The front door was forced by the "bar" firefighter on the engine. As the first due pushed in, they immediately started getting a good knock on the Division 1 fire while the second due's line was coming in the same front door to back them up. The third-due engine company began to push into the basement from side Charlie and conditions were beginning to show signs of improving. The two truck companies on the assignment were placing ground ladders and opening up while the rescue squad, assigned rapid intervention, was removing security bars from the windows. All of this was occurring in about a five-minute time frame and it really looked like it was going to be an in-and-out house fire.

Things changed quickly and dramatically nine minutes after my arrival, about seven minutes into interior firefighting operations. The Division 1 supervisor made an urgent radio transmission advising that the first floor had just collapsed into the basement. The evacuation order was given immediately and an accountability check initiated. During the evacuation, two members of the first-due truck company became separated by deteriorating fire conditions and one member was forced to exit via a window. The other member exited via the rear door. All personnel were accounted for and were OK and exterior operations initiated.

Exterior operations continued for approximately 20 minutes. During this time, an additional engine and truck were requested to the scene for relief. Once they arrived, a plan was made to recommence interior operations to gain better access to the stubborn remaining fire in the walls and the extension into the attic. Crews worked for an additional 30 minutes before the fire was officially declared under control and the incident was scaled back.

Next: Lessons learned and considerations when operating at single-family-dwelling basement fires.

WILLIAM GOLDFEDER, EFO, a Firehouse® contributing editor, has been a firefighter since 1973 and a chief officer since 1982. He is deputy fire chief of the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has served on numerous National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) committees and is the chairman of the IAFC Safety, Health & Survival Section. He is on the board of directors of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the September 11th Families Association and the National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and non-commercial website www.firefighterclosecalls.com. Goldfeder can be contacted at BillyG@Firefighterclosecalls.com.