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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Upon arrival, I was instructed by Sergeant Stacy to pull the 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line. While Firefighter Tyler Di-Stasio (the "bar man," or irons firefighter) was forcing entry, I finished flaking out the line on the front lawn and masked up. Due to an iron security door along with the regular wood residential door, gaining entry took a little longer than normal. Just prior to entry, I was instructed by our deputy chief to knock down some of the fire on the first floor from the exterior.
After gaining entry, we advanced our line into the living room and knocked all visible fire around the window frame and the rest of the fire that appeared to be coming up from the floorboard in the A/B corner. Visibility was zero with moderate heat. After knocking the fire down, the line was advanced through the living room toward the back of the house to locate the basement stairs. We made our way to the back of the house where we located the kitchen, but no basement stairs. After a minute or two of searching and still not being able to locate the stairs, we made our way back to the living room in order to go to the right this time, thinking the stairs were toward the D side of the building. The second-due engine company and first truck company were making entry.
Shortly after entering the living room, a faint cracking sound was heard with a sudden small drop, followed by a significant drop of what felt like half a foot to a foot. The rest of the floor subsequently leaned toward that end. Immediately noticing this, Assistant Chief Frieder called command, notifying him of the floor collapse and to have everyone evacuate the building.
I left the hoseline where it was for others to have a reference point in order to get out and made my way to the door. After taking a step out of the house, I noticed I was the only one outside. Knowing the location of the front door, I turned around to find my officer and the rest of our crew. After taking a few steps back inside, it seemed like jam of people looking for the door. I soon began to grab people and guide them toward the door. After a few seconds, I had located Sergeant Stacy along with our assistant chief and together we made sure everyone else was out before exiting the structure
The following account is by Firefighter Andrew Plimpton, assigned to the "utility" position on Engine 812:
As part of the crew on Engine 812 (first due), I was in the seat referred to as "utility." Since our engine had six personnel, I was going to assist the nozzleman with line placement and movement. I followed the nozzleman to the rear of the engine, where he pulled a 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line with a one-inch smooth-bore tip. I assisted him in flaking the line in the front yard. We then donned the rest of our PPE (personal protective equipment), including facemasks, while the firefighter with the irons forced the front door. Before entering the structure, the nozzleman bled the line while simultaneously knocking down some of the fire venting from a window on side A.
Once we entered the structure, we found fire coming from the corner of the living room next to the fireplace. That fire was quickly knocked down, and I helped the nozzleman move the line to the back of the house to locate the interior stairwell. Throughout the course of this first push to find the basement stairs, I remained directly behind the nozzleman and the officer. We began to advance more, at which point it was noticed that we had no extra line to make it any farther, although we didn't know that we were merely feet from the basement entrance. We tried for approximately another minute to push for the stairs while the temperature began to steadily increase around us. The officer made the decision to reposition the line back to the front of the house, in the hopes that there was a second means of entering the basement.
Once we re-entered the living room, the problems started. It was immediately noticed there was a significant amount of heat in the living room and the fire we had initially knocked in the corner had flared up again. The second-due engine and first-due truck were making their way into the home through the front door. All of the sudden, the floor began to sag beneath our feet toward the center of the room. The floor then dropped several inches, we all heard a loud "crack", and then the floor instantaneously dropped another eight to 12 inches.