Mayday at Single-Family-Dwelling Fire

On Nov. 21, 2009, two firefighters who comprised the interior attack crew from the Wheat Ridge, CO, Fire Department became trapped and initiated a Mayday while operating on the interior of a fire in a single-family dwelling.


On Nov. 21, 2009, two firefighters who comprised the interior attack crew from the Wheat Ridge, CO, Fire Department became trapped and initiated a Mayday while operating on the interior of a fire in a single-family dwelling. The Mayday was transmitted in response to an increasing lack of...


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On Nov. 21, 2009, two firefighters who comprised the interior attack crew from the Wheat Ridge, CO, Fire Department became trapped and initiated a Mayday while operating on the interior of a 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 necessary equipment to extinguish the fire. The two firefighters eventually exited the structure under emergency conditions via a window in the room of origin and with the assistance of firefighters on the exterior of the structure. The two members of the attack team and a firefighter working on the exterior of the structure sustained minor injuries and were transported to a hospital. All three firefighters were treated and released from the hospital the night of the incident.

From time to time, readers of this column inquire about more thorough details about some of the close calls. You will note that in this fire, we do have very detailed information, which is not always the case. Readers are encouraged to review all the details due to the fact that, as is often the case, many close calls are a combination of several seemingly non-critical factors leading up to the incident, as opposed to one specific factor. These details and especially the ones in this close call provide a great opportunity for you to "dissect" the run and apply the incident and the lessons learned to your own departments during training as well as policy development. Keep in mind, that these firefighters, like us, thought they were responding to a seemingly "bread-and-butter/routine" house fire that within seconds became anything but. Their willingness to share their story lets all of us apply their lessons learned, instead of repeating history.

The Wheat Ridge Fire Department (WRFD) is a combination department with a volunteer membership of approximately 100 personnel and a career administrative staff of six personnel. The department staffs two stations and covers an area of about 9.5 square miles with a population of 29,000. In March 2002, fueled by a desire to provide unsurpassed emergency services, the WRFD initiated a program that would better manage its volunteer resources. This program requires firefighters to sign up for shifts and these shifts are operated out of the two stations. This was a significant change to the volunteer system of old, but in a very short period, the merits of this shift program were evident.

Today, the WRFD is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year with around 100 firefighters responding out of both firehouses. The department is updating and expanding its standard operating procedures (SOPs) and developing standard operating guidelines (SOGs). 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 in the interest of firefighter survival.

The fire overview:

At approximately 5:30 P.M. on Nov. 21, 2009, the WRFD was notified by dispatch of a possible structure fire in a single-family home at 6855 West 33rd Ave. in Wheat Ridge. Six fire apparatus with 20 firefighters from the WRFD responded under the command of several officers. Ultimately, a second alarm was called in, which brought three more fire apparatus with 11 additional firefighters and a district chief from West Metro Fire Rescue.

Upon arrival, the crew from Engine 271 advised of no visible hazards ("nothing showing") from the Alpha side of the structure, established command and initiated an investigation into the cause of the reported smoke. Tower 71 arrived next and the company officer from that unit assumed command. Firefighters from Engine 271 and Tower 71 were teamed up and assigned interior attack crew. Upon investigation the interior crew noted brown-tan laminar smoke in the kitchen area. They donned their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and deployed a 1¾-inch hoseline into the main entrance on the Alpha-side residence and requested a thermal imager (TI).

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