Danger at a Residential Basement Fire

  In late January 2011, a close call was experienced by firefighters at a basement fire in a single-family dwelling in Prince George's County, MD. Part one of this column in the March issue featured an overview of the Prince George's County...


  In late January 2011, a close call was experienced by firefighters at a basement fire in a single-family dwelling in Prince George's County, MD. Part one of this column in the March issue featured an overview of the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department and an account of the close call...


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In late January 2011, a close call was experienced by firefighters at a basement fire in a single-family dwelling in Prince George's County, MD. Part one of this column in the March issue featured an overview of the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department and an account of the close call by the incident commander. This month, we continue with accounts by others involved in the incident and a review of the operation.

The following account is by Sergeant David Stacy, the first-due officer on Engine 812:

On Jan. 27, 2011, at 5:30 A.M., units were dispatched for the reported house fire. The address was near our station, where I was the volunteer station officer for the night. Chief officers and my crew, the first-arriving engine, arrived on scene within two minutes of the dispatch to find a 1½-story single-family dwelling with fire showing from the A/B corner of the first floor and a working fire in the basement. During the response, and referring to the map book that I always keep open to the page displaying the area right behind the firehouse, I notified my engine driver that we would lay out a supply line 1½ houses prior to the reported house on fire.

Upon arrival, the hydrant appeared closer to the burning structure than I originally thought, and I made a last-minute decision to take our own hydrant and stretch the attack line from there. We pulled a 200-foot 1¾-inch handline. The irons firefighter on the engine forced entry through an iron security door and the residential door, while the nozzle firefighter completed his "minute-man" hoseline stretch. The line was quickly charged and the crew proceeded into the structure.

Upon entering, we had visible fire in the living room toward the left; it appeared the fire was coming up near the floorboard area of the A/B corner. This fire was quickly knocked. Conditions were zero visibility with light heat. My crew then advanced the line through the living room in an attempt to locate the basement stairs. Per our standard operating procedure (SOP), the first engine is to locate and hold the steps, the second engine provides a backup line for the first engine on the fire floor and the third engine advances a line to the exterior access, if one exists (the fourth engine stands by until directed; the first truck goes to the first floor, the second truck to the basement and the third truck or squad is a rapid intervention team). This county SOP works well within our department; staffing is rarely an issue and units arrive within minutes of one another.

As the engine company made their way out of the living room, a stairwell leading to the attic was noticed on the right side. The engine company continued forward until we ended up toward the rear of the structure at the kitchen/bathroom area. We are familiar with our first-due area and figured one possible location of the interior basement access would be just off of the kitchen, but this was not the case in this structure. The engine crew noticed the temperature was gradually increasing and visibility was still zero. I attempted to notify command that we were toward the rear and still attempting to find the steps.

The second engine was advancing their line onto the first floor, along with several members of the first truck company beginning their search. We moved our line back toward the way we came in an attempt to find the stairwell (thinking we needed to get to the other side of the attic stairs). The engine crew and I just barely entered the initial living room area again. We heard a "crack" and the floor gave way in what felt like a two-stage motion. First, the floor dropped an inch or two, followed a half-second later by a drop of about eight to 12 inches. It felt as if the floor had failed in the corner where we initially attacked the visible fire and the rest of the floor subsequently leaned toward that end. This failure occurred roughly eight to 10 minutes after the arrival of our engine and just over five minutes of operating on the interior.

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