It's so often a combination of small "things forgotten or ignored" at a fire that can lead to tragic outcomes. In this month's continued close call, we learn how firefighters from Frederick County and Carroll County, MD, properly understand the importance of being fully prepared. As you will...
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I had approximately 17 miles to get to the scene and felt as though I was driving in slow motion. Communications reported receiving multiple calls. Some of the first-due companies were late getting out due to a lack of personnel. The first-due medic unit from a neighboring jurisdiction, responding as part of the first-alarm assignment, was reporting smoke showing while still approaching the scene. These reports and issues only served to intensify my anxiety and desire to get to the scene quickly.
I listened to the radio traffic and knew that the first-due engine would be on the scene for some time before any additional units arrived. As units responded, I became increasingly concerned about the amount of radio traffic being produced by units not on the scene. Through the traffic, I thought I heard the incident commander (whom I've known and respected for years) calling "urgent" and something about "firefighters involved." Involved in what!? My heart began to sink as units continued to cover the incident commander's calls to communications. He called again and I could hear great concern in his voice as if he was working hard while trying to talk on the radio. He again reported that he had firefighters involved, but I didn't hear what they were involved in. I, of course, assumed the worst.
Approaching the scene, I saw a large column of smoke and the radio reports didn't sound as if the units were making very good progress. I arrived and parked my unit out on the road approximately a quarter-mile from the driveway in order to let units in and out. Several units were now on the scene and it was beginning to sound like they were getting the fire knocked down. An ambulance was coming down the road toward me. I was walking toward our division's chief fire marshal, Bureau Chief Marc McNeal, when the ambulance stopped and the fire marshal, Battalion Chief Michael Dmuchowski, got out. He reported to McNeal and me that the ambulance was transporting an injured firefighter for treatment and evaluation of minor burns to his upper torso. The chief also reported that two firefighters had been caught in some type of event.
I made my way to the incident scene and reported to command. He advised me that two firefighters had been caught inside the trailer when fire conditions suddenly deteriorated, causing one of the firefighters to be "enveloped" in flames. A chief officer from our division (county fire and rescue) as well as from his own department both were enroute to the hospital. At the time, in coordination with command, I immediately went to work with my normal "incident safety officer" fireground functions. As the fire was brought under control, I shifted my attention back to the incident that had occurred with the first-due engine.
I spoke to the incident commander and he related the event to me from his perspective. I also located the injured firefighter's personal protective equipment (PPE) that had been removed by EMS (see photos in part one). Since this gear was property of another department, I felt it very important to photograph it as soon as possible before it was taken back into possession by that department.
The firefighters involved were from an outside jurisdiction. As the safety officer, I don't do much in the way of investigation or reporting for incidents that don't involve one of our career or volunteer members. But when I saw the amount of damage that the injured firefighter's PPE had sustained, I felt that it would be in our best interest (and to assist the primary fire department) to conduct interviews and document the scene.
I received permission from the injured firefighter's chief (who was now on the scene) to interview the other firefighter involved, who had remained on the scene. I asked him to explain in detail what had happened from the time their unit arrived on the scene until after they were both out. He explained that when their unit arrived, they found the first-due chief and medic unit attempting to deal with the locked gate at the end of the driveway. They were also advised by the medic unit that they had been told by a neighbor that three children lived in the trailer, but didn't know whether anyone was home.