Last month, we began covering an amazing rescue and close call by FDNY Firefighter Peter Demontreux. As is evident by his actions and the end result of this fire, in addition to his high level of training (as provided both initially and ongoing by the FDNY), there are numerous...
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The firefighter’s bunker gear was found to be subjected to heat in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Visible are burns to his bunker coat and the location where the seam popped on the coat.
Demontreux was treated for first-degree burns on his face and second-degree burns behind his left shoulder.
FDNY Firefighter Peter Demontreux stands in front of the fire building right after he exited.
Last month, we began covering an amazing rescue and close call by FDNY Firefighter Peter Demontreux. As is evident by his actions and the end result of this fire, in addition to his high level of training (as provided both initially and ongoing by the FDNY), there are numerous technological pieces of equipment to support what we as firefighters do, but there are few more important “pieces of equipment” than our bunker gear. As we have emphasized, literally the only thing that can sometimes be between us and the fire, is our bunker gear, as a part of our entire personal protective equipment (PPE) ensemble – helmet, hood, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), gloves, bunker coat, bunker pants and boots.
While we must be vigilant in the spending of the taxpayers’ dollars, how we spend their money directly correlates to our ability to assist them when they need us the most. Buy low-cost, cheap and unproven fire apparatus that barely meets specs (yours or national) and it barely may be able to function when you need it most. Buy cheap “bare-minimum” radios and, again, they may work fine “day to day,” but when you need them most, in the worst conditions, how will the radios function when you transmit? The same theory must go for anything that directly relates to our ability to serve those who need us and protect ourselves in the performance of our duties.
In these times of extreme budget scrutiny, it is easy for our elected officials and those who work at city hall to look at low-cost, low-bid equipment that “meets standards.” It is also common for salespeople to attempt to convince the “unknowing” non-fire personnel that “their” product is all we need. The people who make decisions on what will protect you must understand why those are minimum standards and you must be able to explain why the public is often best served by purchasing above those minimums. It is kind of like “minimum” insurance – it’s great and saves you money, until you need to make a claim. That’s when you find out what you really saved.
Make sure that those participating and making those fiscal decisions genuinely understand the importance of your bunker gear. Take time to make sure your bunker gear specs are the absolute top priority of your organization. Take time to educate those folks on gear and what levels of protection are available and what is used to “measure” the function ability and protection ability of your gear.
What are your department’s TPP and THL numbers? According to firefighter safety and survival experts, thermal protective performance (TPP) defines how well the protective ensemble (your bunker gear) protects you, as a firefighter, from the thermal environment (fire and heat conditions) using a standardized laboratory test procedure. The higher the TPP number, the higher the level of insulation provided. The minimum is 35 TPP, which is an exposure of 17.5 seconds times the specified 2.0 cal/sq. cm/sec. heat load (1,000 degrees Celsius/1,832 degrees Fahrenheit range). I know, “professor”-type stuff. Relax and keep reading; it gets clearer.
Total heat loss (THL) is a measure of how much heat can escape directly through the layers of the garment composite (again, your bunker gear) and is often referred to as “breathability.” The higher the THL number, the higher the composite’s “breathability.” It is defined as numeric value for the number of watts of electrical energy per square meter to maintain a hot plate placed beneath the composite at a stable temperature using a standardized laboratory test procedure. While this may be a bit confusing, just keep reading.
There is an important relationship between TPP and THL since as one goes up, in most cases the other goes down. Bunker gear with high TPP values may result in increased levels of heat stress to the firefighter, whereas gear with high THL values may not provide firefighters with adequate thermal protection.
We also must understand, and plan ahead for, the fact that as gear gets used (but not worn out) and washed, the TPP tends to rise while the THL tends to decrease. The solution is to find the correct balance of THL and TPP values for your department and, where needed, provide extra levels of protection in specific, higher thermal load locations of the garments.
Fire departments genuinely must look at the potential thermal environments firefighters are likely to work in, as well as the local climate. When I say “genuinely,” I mean you must examine the buildings and the types of fires you may encounter. Certainly you want to look at what you “typically” respond to – but also what you “may” respond to – so “that” fire isn’t the one you end up in trouble with because your department failed to plan for the entire spectrum of your community’s potential fire environment. Plan realistically for the worst-case scenario and then do your homework from that point on.
In this close call, because the department takes the specifications of its PPE so seriously, it certainly does plan for the day-to-day use, but also for the “worst-case scenario” as experienced first hand by Firefighter Demontreux. As firefighters, we must understand and realize that the worst-case scenario may occur the next time you roll out the door. It is those times when your training and your equipment will prove their ultimate value. Consider the fact that fire departments spend so much time on items such as apparatus specs, also make sure the one thing that comes between you and the fire, your PPE and those specifications, is as important as apparatus specs. Also consider the fact that if your department buys the best possible radios, the best possible apparatus and the best possible bunker gear, none of it matters if we don’t use it.
Our sincere thanks to FDNY Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano; Chief of Department Edward Kilduff; Deputy Assistant Chief Stephen Raynis/Chief of Safety, FDNY Safety Command; Battalion Chief Robert Albanese, executive officer of the Safety and Inspection Safety Command; Firefighter Peter Demontreux; and the fire officers, companies and firefighters involved in this event. We also thank New York Daily News reporter Patrice O’Shaughnessy for assisting with this column.
The following article by Patrice O’Shaughnessy was published in the New York Daily News on Dec. 13, 2010:
The only way out was through a room that glowed orange with flames.
The fire in the Brooklyn apartment was burning at 1,000 degrees, so hot that it cooked the usually impenetrable bunker coat Firefighter Peter Demontreux wore.
He and the man he found trapped in a back room charged through the searing heat in lockstep and made their way to a ladder outside the third-floor window.
Demontreux was burned; the man he rescued suffered second-degree burns over 40% of his body.
The man survived and is expected to recover. Demontreux went back to work at Ladder 132.
For his bravery and boldness, Demontreux is the Daily News Hero of the Month.
“I got away with a scratch compared to him,” said the 30-year-old firefighter. “I’m glad he’s alive.”
Demontreux, with nearly nine years in the FDNY, responded with Ladder 132 to the arson blaze that engulfed 175 Putnam Ave. on Aug. 30.
“I went in the front door and upstairs, and on the third floor, a man said his friend was inside,” Demontreux said. “I did a search with my right hand; there was zero visibility; it was getting hotter and hotter and hotter.”
He could hear a man screaming, who was later identified as Clyde Matheny, 51.
“He was at the window of the back bedroom. I could hear him,” Demontreux said. “I went to the front window where there was an aerial ladder and told Firefighter Richard Myers of Rescue 2 that it was so hot in here, and he started to break the windows.
“I go back in and do a search with my left hand along the wall. The smoke was lifting, and I could see the flames at ceiling level,” Demontreux said.
“I went through the kitchen to the back bedroom, and I saw the man with his upper body out the window, trying to breathe. I was looking for the fire escape, a ladder, but there was nothing out there.
“He’s at my left side; we go to the front room, and the whole thing turns orange.
“It was like someone turned the lights on.”
He could feel his bunker coat catch fire, which FDNY officials said happens rarely.
“I was pulling him....We tripped up once,” he recalled. “I had a good lock on his arm. I wanted to get out of there – and he was coming with me.
“We ran across the room in one motion. I could feel the burns, I could feel my face burning – it feels like people are sticking you with needles.
“But he was in worse shape.”
They got to the front window, and Demontreux threw Matheny onto the aerial ladder. Firefighters brought Matheny down and rushed him to an ambulance – and they also put water on Demontreux.
“The FDNY safety people said the stitch that holds the sleeve where it meets the vest popped from the heat,” said Demontreux, explaining how his coat melted. “They tested my gear, and the coat was up to 1,000 degrees.”
Nine people were injured in the fire, which is still under investigation.
Demontreux was treated at the burn center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell for first-degree burns on his face and second-degree burns behind his left shoulder.
He returned weekly for treatment until early October, when he went back to work at the firehouse.
Matheny is still in the burn center.
“I went to see him and I didn’t know what to expect,” Demontreux said. “He was unconscious. They had just taken a breathing tube out.
“I took a look. I saw his face; he looked relatively good. I feel bad for him.”
Demontreux said he would like to visit Matheny sometime, if he was agreeable.
Born and raised on Staten Island, Demontreux and his wife, Gina, a teacher, are parents of four kids all under the age of 5.
He took all the civil service tests (for the fire department) when he was 17 years old, then got a bachelor’s degree in business at the College of Staten Island before joining the FDNY. He spent five years in Engine 248 before coming to Ladder 132.
Demontreux said he went back to the scene of the fire weeks later.
“I can’t believe me and this guy fit through the narrow kitchen....Thank God there was a clear shot to the window.”
Concluding comments by Chief Goldfeder:
The bunker gear did its job. So did Firefighter Demontreux (who was assigned as the “OV,” or “outside vent,” firefighter at this fire), along with all the other FDNY members operating at that fire. It should be noted that other firefighters, including members of Rescue Company 2, also performed heroically at this fire, using a life-saving rope to rescue a man from the third floor of the building. Firefighter Charlie Dodenhoff used the rope to pull a man out of a third-floor window. In all, four firefighters were injured in the fire, with Firefighter Demontreux suffering burns on his face and back.
While our focus this month is the outstanding and heroic efforts of Firefighter Demontreux and the fact that his actions were supported by his high levels of training, his proper use of his bunker gear along with how serious his department is when specifying and ordering any equipment their members use, this fire also comes at a time unseen by most firefighters and fire officers reading this column.
The current economic situation is forcing the fire service to take a beating like never before. When the public is personally doing fine, they don’t pay much attention to what is going on around them. But due to the economy, everyone is worried about their own jobs, their income, their future – and they look at “who has” when they don’t. They are now asking questions, lots of questions, about what local government is doing with their tax dollars and we, when not prepared, can be easy, yet sometimes unfair, targets. If there’s ever been a time for fire departments to really show their value to their communities and to market themselves, it is now. Most people do not understand what we do, why we do it, why we work different shifts, why we have down time, why some are career, why some are volunteer, why we send an engine company to someone who is choking, why we have SUVs, and on and on. We just assume they understand what we do.
Unfortunately, many people now are under the misconception that they don’t need as many firefighters and firehouses and as much fire equipment in their community as they had before. At the above fire, Pete Demontreux and all the FDNY members operating on that scene who clearly performed above and beyond would not have had the same outcome if firehouses were shut down, equipment specifications were reduced due to price and training was minimized. Sure, some will say that “anything” can happen – and I respond, “That’s right, it can, and it did – Mr. Matheny is alive and so is Firefighter Demontreux.”
While some may say this is an “extremely emotional and rare example,” I would respond that this is reality. People have fires, they do get trapped and in many cases firefighters are able to rescue them. It’s a big deal, no matter how often it may or may not happen, especially to the Mr. Mathenys of this world.
In today’s “budget discussion arena,” the public needs to clearly understand the realistic impact of any proposed cuts. We have to be very honest and factual and do so with little emotion. Educate the public to think of us, their fire department, as their “must have” insurance. Saving money in a community by unrealistically cutting the fire department is the same as buying poor insurance. It is no big deal until they dial 911. And when they dial 911 and a lot less shows up than what they expected, and their stuff is burning up, the results can be tragic for them – and for us.
If we are to survive for our own good and for the good of the public, we must intensely educate the taxpayers and elected officials well before the budget cuts and well before the fire, using numbers they understand. They need to know what their “insurance policy” (your fire department) will deliver – and what it may not be able to deliver when they make their claim (the 911 call for a fire). They need to understand, for example, the reality of this particular fire in August 2010 in Brooklyn, NY, and all the factors that go into saving a fire victim who is trapped. No emotion – fact. And the fact that this fire could happen in your town.
It may be better received when you explain it in the manner we describe above. The public usually wants it “their” way: They want the lowest taxes before the fire, and then the best-staffed, quickest responding, equipped and trained fire department (stationed right next door) when they have their fire or emergency. The public can “have it their way” when they need us, but at a price that they have to be willing to pay. And in many communities that have taken the time to educate the public, they are willing to pay for excellent service when we explain it factually.
A brief explanation of FDNY truck (ladder) and engine company position assignments and responsibilities:
• Can firefighter – The can position’s main duties are to get into the building, search for the fire, contain the fire, and search for and rescue trapped people. The firefighter in the can position is part of the forcible-entry team that uses a water extinguisher to briefly attack the fire for rescue purposes.
• Irons firefighter – The firefighter in the irons position is part of the forcible-entry team. Their first duty is to gain access into the building, by force if necessary, search for the fire, contain the fire, and search for and rescue trapped persons.
• Outside vent firefighter (OV) – The OV position’s main job is to vent the fire from the outside to create an opening for heat and smoke to escape the building. In this position the firefighters often work on fire escapes, ladders and tower-ladder buckets. Gated windows, high fences, heavy security doors and objects left on fire escapes make the OV’s job more difficult. Once venting is complete, the OV will team up with another member and enter the occupancy to search for and rescue persons trapped by the fire.
• Roof firefighter – Firefighters in the roof position use tower-ladder buckets, aerial ladders, portable ladders, fire escapes and roofs of neighboring buildings to access the fire. This firefighter’s tasks are to check for trapped victims, ventilate and give a report of rooftop fire conditions to the incident commander.
• Truck company chauffeur – The truck chauffeur drives the ladder truck to the fire scene. At the fire, the chauffeur is responsible for raising and positioning the aerial ladder or bucket, then removing trapped occupants from the building.
• Truck company officer – The main jobs of the officer at the fire scene are to keep track of the company and lead the members into the fire. The officer is part of the forcible-entry team that gains access and locates the area of fire so it can be put out by the engine company. The officer constantly communicates conditions to the incident commander.
• Engine company officer – The main jobs of the officer at the fire scene are to keep track of his company and lead them into the fire. The officer must ensure the new firefighters (“probies”) are teamed with more experienced firefighters. The officer constantly communicates conditions to the incident commander.
• Engine company chauffeur (ECC) – The engine chauffeur is in charge of driving the engine and controlling the pump. Firefighters are counting on the engine to deliver water they need to put out the fire because as has been said, more lives have been saved on the fireground due to properly positioned and flowing hose streams than any other task.
• Door/control firefighter – Firefighters in the door/control position work with the chauffeur to connect the supply line to the hydrant. Most stretches are to apartments in multi-story buildings, so the door/control is also responsible for estimating how many lengths of hose it will take to get the water from the engine to the fire and to keep the hose free of knots and kinks.
• Nozzle firefighter – At the scene of a fire, the first job of the firefighter in the nozzle position is to ensure the nozzle is hooked up to the first length of hose; FDNY standard operating procedure (SOP) is that the nozzle is pre-connected to the first length. The nozzle firefighter stretches the first length of hose with the nozzle attached via the route and to the location as ordered by the officer. When the engine officer calls for water the nozzle firefighter must bleed the line of any trapped air. When the team is in place, the nozzle position advances the hose into the burning building/apartment.
• Backup firefighter – When the water is turned on, the hoseline is difficult to control. The backup firefighter is positioned like a human brace behind the shoulder of the firefighter in the nozzle position. The backup firefighter becomes the main “push” of the hoseline and helps to alleviate most of the weight and pressure for the nozzle firefighter.
WILLIAM GOLDFEDER, EFO, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service. He is a deputy chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982, has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety and survival website www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. Goldfeder may be contacted at BillyG@FirefighterCloseCalls.com.