Firefighters' Mayday at Single-Family Dwelling

This is the second part of a report about a fire that occurred on Nov. 21, 2009, in which two firefighters from the Wheat Ridge, CO, Fire Department became trapped and initiated a Mayday while operating on the interior of a working fire in a...


This is the second part of a report about a fire that occurred on Nov. 21, 2009, in which two firefighters from the Wheat Ridge, CO, Fire Department became trapped and initiated a Mayday while operating on the interior of a working fire in a single-family dwelling. The Mayday was transmitted...


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This is the second part of a report about a fire that occurred on Nov. 21, 2009, in which two firefighters from the Wheat Ridge, CO, Fire Department became trapped and initiated a Mayday while operating on the interior of a working fire in a single-family dwelling. The Mayday was transmitted in response to an increasing lack of visibility, uncontrolled growth of fire conditions within the room, a loss of the primary means of egress and the lack of equipment needed to extinguish the fire. Our sincere thanks to Chief Steven Gillespie and the members of the Wheat Ridge Fire Department, West Metro Fire Rescue and Pridemark Paramedic Services for their willingness to share their story.

Details leading up to the Mayday event and the investigation:
A review of the dispatch tapes and Wheat Ridge Police Department report indicate that the woman who rented the property said she was home watching TV with her two sons, ages 1 and 5, when she smelled smoke. She investigated the source of the smoke and said she believed it was coming from her bathroom. She said she had been home the day before when a plugged-in space heater in the southeast bedroom (bedroom 1) caused a fuse to blow. She unplugged the heater without incident, but noted that some power in her kitchen, bathroom and bedroom 1 was not working on the day of the fire. That morning, the landlord replaced a fuse, restoring power to the areas affected.

When interviewed by a fire investigator, the occupant said her husband smokes outside, but he had not been home in three weeks due to work. She further stated that all lighters in the house were secured and inaccessible by her sons. The occupant's teenage daughter was not home at the time of the fire.

All electrical breakers and gas-supply valves to the house were noted in the off position. Firefighters document securing these utilities during fire suppression operations. No fire alarms or detectors were noted in the structure. Examination of the structure confirms firefighter statements and revealed damage in bedroom 1 consistent with a room-and-contents fire and subsequent overhaul.

Examination of bedroom 1 revealed a room containing contents consistent with that of young children, including books, clothing, toys and a bunk bed. Due to the report of electrical failure, a thorough evaluation of the room's electrical components was made. Two outlets with no evidence of arcing, short or radiant heat exposure were on the west wall with nothing plugged into them. A lamp was also adjacent to the west wall along with an extension cord and power strip. They were intact and showed no signs of internal arcing or short and only minor exposure to radiant heat. The space heater was along the east wall. It was not plugged in and showed no signs of arcing or short and only limited exposure to radiant heat.

A TV set along the south wall adjacent to the lower-level bunk bed showed extensive exposure to radiant heat. The TV was plugged into the unplugged power strip and extension cord. The TV consisted primarily of plastic exterior components and showed signs of melting on its east-facing side due to radiant heat exposure. Examination of the area just east of the TV revealed a bunk bed with mattress damage and frame charring most severe on the southern and southeast side of the lower bunk. The upper-bunk mattress and frame were damaged on the southernmost end but, as with the lower bunk, the damage and charring became less severe toward the north end of the bed. Two areas of clean burn were noted on the south and east walls consistent with the location of the lower-level bunk bed. Examination of the mattress springs after removal indicate sustained heat exposure in two areas directly adjacent to the areas of clean burn noted on the south and east walls. These areas of sustained heat exposure, or annealing, are identified by loss of tensile strength and compression of the mattress springs in those locations.

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