“Station and units respond for a reported structure fire. We are receiving multiple calls of flames showing.”
This is a call all of us who pull on our boots and rush out the doors listen for each and every day of our career. However, this call is going to be a little different. It’s different because it’s a house that is, or should be, very familiar. It is the home of a person with multiple medical problems who has called for help many times. You have been in this house dozens of times, but the question is, do remember the interior layout and all the potential hazards?
This is a question we should ask ourselves on every medical run we make. What better chance to look for hidden dangers inside someone’s house or at a multi-family dwelling? Most times, patient care only takes a few minutes. Instead of getting back on your rig and rushing back to the station, take the time to look around for some ins and outs of the house or apartment complex. Open your eyes and take mental notes of your surroundings, then review them once back at the station. Ask others what they may have noticed. They may have picked up on something you might have missed, or vice versa. EMS calls are by far the most frequent type of run that we make. It’s time to take the tunnel vision goggles off, and put our pre-fire planning glasses on!
My department is probably not much different than others around the country. We average approximately 85 to 90 percent EMS runs annually. Our engines run the EMS First Responder calls as well. This puts three to four firefighters on the scene of a medical emergency within minutes. With that being said, the majority of these EMS calls can be handled in a few minutes by two firefighters. This frees up two of us to look around and gather patient information. Does this give us the permission to go snooping in someone’s closet? Of course not! But, it does mean that we can glance around at the interior layout of the house.
When was the last time you responded to a single-family home that was converted into a multi-family dwelling with multiple apartments? I recall responding to a call to what I thought was a townhouse-style apartment. Once inside, I was shocked to find a small staircase leading into another apartment! It had one way in and out and no windows. The door to the downstairs apartment was in the living room of the upstairs apartment! What if that downstairs apartment caught on fire? What if they reported people trapped? I would venture to say that at least now, having seen this set-up, I would feel a little more comfortable knowing where that door is.
Many of today’s houses are built with the same layout or blueprints. Once you visit one, you can image the layout of most of the others. However, here is one problem with that thought. Over the lifespan of a structure each person who lives there has different tastes and preferences on layout and design. How many times have you run into a house that once had an attached garage, but it now has been converted into a living space? This can be a problem because the construction of the interior of the converted garage could feature many different layouts. Is it a bedroom or possibly two or more rooms? This can prove to be a problem if you are to enter the structure with low visibility. EMS is the best time to notice the new layout. While tending to the sick or injured patient and maneuvering the stretcher into the house, look around and ask questions if you find something out of the ordinary. Moving a six-foot stretcher through someone’s house can give anyone a perspective on layouts.
Hidden Dangers Exposed