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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With this report, the crew realized they had a very narrow window of opportunity to conduct a search. The firefighter and his partner climbed over the fence and ran back the driveway, while the rest of the crew forced the locked gate. Once they got to the mobile home, they saw fire showing from the Charlie side at about the middle of the unit and heavy smoke pushing from the rest of it. They forced the front door, and heavy fire greeted them, rolling out the door. They realized there was only one place in the home they were going to be able to search due to the volume of fire and the slim chance of a civilian surviving.
He stated they were in agreement that they were going to attempt a search of the bedroom to the right of the front door and in the Delta end of the mobile home. Fire was venting above them out the front door when they entered. They made it five to six feet in the door when they made the turn to enter the bedroom. He stated that at that moment, the fire seemed to change dramatically. He looked back to verify the exit. When he turned again, his partner began complaining of the intense heat and was "suddenly enveloped in fire." He stated that at first he thought his partner had fallen through the floor and that the fire was coming from beneath, but then quickly realized that his partner was literally on fire. He grabbed his partner and turned him toward the door, but needed to assist him out due to the heavy damage to his PPE and the amount of pain he was in. He pushed his partner out the door.
Other personnel who were stretching an attack line immediately went to the search crew's aid. The incident commander and other members dragged the crew away from the burning home. This firefighter had no injuries and remarkably the injured firefighter had only minor burns. I was absolutely mystified that the injured firefighter was not seriously burned.
I remained on the scene until operations were terminated and I returned to my station to make my report. I immediately issued a safety briefing in which I included the pictures of the firefighter's PPE and used this as an illustration of why wearing our PPE correctly matters. We don't get to pick the time or location of our battles, but we always must be ready to fight. Being ready should include wearing all of our PPE and wearing it correctly.
The following comments by Chief Goldfeder are based on discussions with those involved in the incident:
So much of this account speaks about preparedness, but also brings up issues related to "expecting the unexpected." While we should conduct post-action reviews of serious incidents, there are the "Murphy's law" scenarios. In this case, the fence created major obstacles for firefighters. How would you have handled that? When there are reports of occupants trapped, we should take extreme measures (based on size-up and conditions) to do what we can to help those who may be trapped.
In this case, the firefighters from Frederick County and Carroll County had numerous challenges, with the focus on the children reported being trapped being paramount. And while they were forced to take some extreme risks to conduct their quick search, this is yet another example of firefighters being "personally prepared" (by properly using and wearing their PPE as it was designed to be used) and the outcome being a positive one.
So what about the children who were reported trapped? It turned out they were not at home at the time of the fire. They apparently stay at home alone on a regular basis and the neighbors had not seen them outside at the time of the fire, and this led to the insistence of neighbors that the children were in the trailer. Not a particularly unusual ending and their assumption was a reasonable one. It isn't all that rare that we are told "occupants possibly trapped." When we are so advised or have reliable indications related to the possibility (in coordination with command and operating companies), we must size-up the fire and related conditions and immediately determine our priorities, which more likely than not will be attempting a search.
When we are placed in the situation requiring rapid size-up and an almost immediate need to search for possible victims, it is then when our personal and organizational "pre-fire preparedness" is put to what may be the ultimate test.
On behalf of my department, my family and all of us at Firehouse® Magazine, best wishes for a happy holiday season and a healthy and peaceful 2011.