Rapidly Changing Conditions — Part 2

On June 24, 2010, a smoke explosion occurred during a multi-family dwelling fire in Harrisonburg, VA, forcing six firefighters to rapidly evacuate through an interior stairwell and second-floor windows. Our thanks to Harrisonburg Chief of Department...


On June 24, 2010, a smoke explosion occurred during a multi-family dwelling fire in Harrisonburg, VA, forcing six firefighters to rapidly evacuate through an interior stairwell and second-floor windows. Our thanks to Harrisonburg Chief of Department Larry W. Shifflett, Deputy Fire Chief Ian...


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On June 24, 2010, a smoke explosion occurred during a multi-family dwelling fire in Harrisonburg, VA, forcing six firefighters to rapidly evacuate through an interior stairwell and second-floor windows.

Our thanks to Harrisonburg Chief of Department Larry W. Shifflett, Deputy Fire Chief Ian J. Bennett, the officers and members of Hose Company 4 (Rockingham County) and especially the members of the Harrisonburg Fire Department for their help in preparing this column.

The following accounts are by firefighters who were operating in the fire building at the time of the emergency:

Firefighter Derek Showalter, Engine 28 (operating in the area of the stairwell) — Engine 28's crew was given the assignment to check the Bravo exposure. We encountered clear conditions on the second floor and light smoke conditions in the attic. After a few moments, we noticed a small amount of fire in the attic. A 1¾-inch hoseline was stretched to the attic access in the hallway near the top of the stairwell. After attempting to extinguish the fire in the attic, conditions in the attic grew progressively worse (less visibility and higher heat). Firefighters in the rear bedroom called for the hoseline to try and attack the fire through holes they had pulled in the ceiling. While I made my way down the attic ladder, the attic flashed, engulfing the hallway and ladder that I was on. The firefighters in the Charlie-side bedroom had to do ladder bails out windows due to the fire blocking their access back to the stairwell. I was able to make my way to the stairway and escape with minor burns to my left ear.

Firefighter Chad Smith, Tower 1 (in the rear bedroom pulling ceiling) — Master Firefighter (Jamie) Rickard and I were assigned as the two inside guys on the tower. We had just finished securing utilities for the two townhouses and were assigned to salvage in the exposure Bravo building. As we reached the second floor of exposure Bravo, there was no smoke present and everything seemed normal. Master Firefighter Rickard and I started moving the furniture in the rear bedroom into a pile so we could place a tarp on it.

Around this time, someone advised us over the radio that we had fire above us in the attic. We donned our facepieces and I started helping Master Firefighter (Bradley) Clark pull the ceiling in the bedroom. While we were doing this, a hoseline had been moved to the hallway on the second floor and Firefighter Showalter was trying to knock the fire down from an attic ladder. Once we had a hole in the ceiling, the smoke conditions started getting worse and continued to do so. It appeared that the water was not reaching the fire from the hole we had created. The hoseline was handed to me and I knelt down in the doorway to the bedroom and started flowing water through the hole.

A short time later, the smoke got real thick and banked down to the floor. Seeing this, I shut down the nozzle. The next thing I knew the hallway ignited with flames and extended to the doorway where I was standing. Knowing that we were cut off from the stairway due to fire, Master Firefighter Clark and I ran for the windows in the bedroom. When I reached the window, there wasn't a ladder at that particular window, so I rolled out the window holding myself with my left leg and left arm on the inside part of the window sill. A few seconds later, a ladder was thrown and I descended the ladder head first to the bottom, where three people stopped me. Master Firefighter Clark exited the window on a ladder that was thrown from a deck on the first floor. Chief 2 approached us to see if we were OK. A couple of minutes later, we went to the front of the building and rested in rehab.

Firefighter Tyler Burgoyne, Engine 28 (operating in the area of the stairwell) — We were sent to the second floor of the Bravo exposure to check the attic for extension. There was light smoke in the attic with no flames visible. We checked the attic several minutes later and found some fire visible near the Charlie side. I extinguished the fire from the attic access and stayed in the access hole. The temperature was rising in the attic. I kept spraying water, but the temperature was not getting any cooler.

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