BETHESDA, MD – On Dec. 3, 2008, firefighters from three departments in Montgomery County were in sync.
Their teamwork resulted in the successful rescue of triplets from their blazing house on Jamestown Road.
What firefighters learned from a man standing in the yard near the house made their pulses race. His triplet toddlers were in their cribs in a second-floor bedroom.
By the time Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad Lt. Curtis Warfield and Master Firefighter John (Cliffy) Klavon headed up the stairs, flames were intensifying.
Warfield felt the heat. It was almost unbearable. But, they pushed on. “I was running on adrenalin. I was just thinking about the kids. After a while, I didn’t even feel it,” the lieutenant said.
Once upstairs, the two split up. “I heard muffled moans. I yelled to Cliffy that I’d found the bedroom…”
As they entered the room, they noticed flames rolling over the ceiling of the secondfloor hallway and closed the door behind them. The room quickly filled with the thick smoke resulting in zero visibility.
They were only able to use their hands to feel for objects and their ears to hear faint moaning, then they located the first two cribs.
They then discovered an obstacle that would delay the rescue – the three cribs were covered with netting. The two firefighters pulled and tugged but to no avail.
Warfield said the kids’ silence forced them to make what would be a life-saving decision – they took off their gloves to gain access to a tool to cut the nets on two cribs.
“It was a tough decision – for us to leave with just two. But, I was worried about carrying two…” Warfield said.
Warfield requested a ladder to be placed at the bedroom window in case they could not safely make it down the stairs. He quickly realized that the only chance of survival for the children was to rapidly remove them from the house, so he ordered Klavon to follow him down the stairs and out of the house. There still was zero visibility due to the heavy black smoke in the stairwell as they descended.
Warfield had Aiden cradled in his arms, while Bryson was in Klavon’s.
They met Bethesda Naval Firefighter Jody Sealey and Montgomery County Capt. Kimonti Oglesby, and directed them to the room. They also had a problem with the net, but managed to grab Colson, who also was unconscious.
Once outside, medics initiated advanced life support care on the triplets, and transported them to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Warfield and Klavon suffered burns, and were transported to a local hospital where they were treated and released.
BCC Chief Ned Sherburne said he got the call that no chief ever wants to get – two of his firefighters had been injured.
“When I got to the hospital to check on them, Warfield told me he was OK, and I should go find out how the toddlers were,” he said.
The children have fully recovered, and the family moved back into the home about a month ago.
Sherburne said he was very proud of how the crews worked together to locate and rescue the children.
Klavon, who is now a police officer in Hyattsville, Md., said he also was operating on pure adrenalin, and didn’t realize until after he turned over Bryson that he had been burned.
Sealey, who also volunteers at Dunkirk Vol. Fire Company in Southern Maryland, said he was happy the kids are ok. He kept abreast of their progress.
Warfield, a fifth generation firefighter, says everyone involved is pleased that things came together that day. It was an operation they'll never forget.