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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When this occurred, I was immediately to the left of a chief officer who had Division 1. We both understood what occurred and immediately notified command of a floor collapse and to evacuate the building. Command requested evacuation tones on all channels and for units to sound their horns/sirens. Inside the structure, the evac tones were clearly heard along with an abundance of apparatus sirens/horns.

Visible fire was beginning to push out of the hole on the floor. Units got out of the living room and out of the front door they entered, immediately off of the living room. One member of the search crew was separated from his team; unaware of the conditions present, although not in immediate danger in the A/D corner of the structure; this member bailed out of a window. Upon exiting the structure, units operated from the exterior for approximately 15 minutes until the majority of the fire was knocked down. Upon starting another interior attack, there was significant extension in all the walls and into the attic.

The following account is by Captain Matthew Machala, the Engine 812 driver:

During the short response to this fire, a brief conversation was conducted between the officer and me as to exactly where the hydrant was in relationship to the address and what method we were going to use to establish a water supply. As we rounded the corner just prior to the house, fire could be seen showing from the first floor and basement of the dwelling, which was about one block away. With the hydrant now in sight, the engine officer directed me to take my own hydrant. I pulled up all the way to the left side of the road parallel with the curb, leaving plenty of room for other apparatus to pass.

I shifted the engine into pump and the officer directed the crew to pull the 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line off the rear. Chief 812 arrived shortly before us and gave a full report, so on the engine's arrival, the officer simply transmitted that we were on the scene. County Fire Communications asked whether we had any layout (Prince George's County Fire/EMS Communications plays an active role during working incidents, ensuring companies follow up with their expected SOP-driven duties). As I was still in the cab engaging the pump and the officer had already exited the cab and did not hear the request, I answered that we had our own hydrant two houses down and communications acknowledged. I exited the cab and grabbed my portable radio and helmet, while the crew was running the line to the house.

I immediately went to the front of the engine, pulled the front sleeve from the bumper and removed the front steamer cap from the hydrant. I went to the rear of the apparatus to ensure the hosebed was clear of the attack line, returned to the pump panel and charged the line as I could see it was in position to be charged. After setting my pump pressure, I returned to the front of the engine, hooked up my front sleeve and charged the hydrant. I then returned to the pump panel, opened my front intake, read my gauges to ensure I had an adequate water supply and adjusted my discharge accordingly for the increase in intake pressure.

The second-due engine had arrived and laid a secondary attack line, but the first-due truck was not yet on scene (less than two minutes of on-scene time had passed). As a precautionary measure, I retrieved our 28-foot extension ladder off the side of the engine as the first- and second-due trucks were pulling up, but I did not throw it as it was a 1½-story single-family dwelling and both trucks had ladders going to the structure immediately on arrival.

After getting to the house and sizing up where the fire was and the progress the engine was making, interior radioed that some type of floor collapse had occurred and to have the structure evacuated. I activated my audible devices to indicate the evacuation order and double-check my water supply. With everything in order, I stood by at the engine. During the remainder of the incident, no subsequent lines were pulled off my engine and I simply ensured the water supply and pressure of my one hoseline.

The following account is by Firefighter Tim Curran, who operated on the hoseline of Engine 812: