As we noted last month in Part 1 of this column, for most firefighters, odds are your most common structural fires involve single-family dwellings. In addition to construction concerns, "what's inside" is a major factor that can lead to close calls, or worse, for firefighters. In this case, for...
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When we reported back to the scene, Lieutenant Dietz and Firefighter Claybern were on the front lawn, out of their bunker coats and visibly shaken, but with no obvious injuries. Both members advised they were in the residence when they heard and felt three separate explosions. Both members complained of ringing in their ears, but no physical injuries. Both members advised they were in the room where the main fire occurred and could hear bottles begin to bleed off air. When they heard that, they began to exit the room. As they were in the hall just outside the room, they heard the explosions and then felt the concussion from the third and loudest explosion. Both crew members rapidly exited the residence. They stated that they possibly jumped over a railing going down from a ramp that went to the front door of the residence. Both members were taken to the emergency department at St Elizabeth for evaluation. Fortunately, both were OK.
These following comments are by Chief Goldfeder based on discussions with Chief Messingschlager and others:
Each month, when we work with the firefighters and officers who submit their close calls, we (including me) learn from these fires. It's a continual process. And when we see departments that are learning from other close calls, that's a good thing. In this case, the "routine fire" again created a very close call for firefighters, but some good information can be shared:
- Fire dispatchers' role — Wonderfully, the Kenton County fire dispatchers passed information along. Sound like no big deal? Unfortunately, it is. You have all read in this column (and others) where fire dispatchers or 911 call takers "keep" information and don't pass it on. That's a real problem for occupants and firefighters. A simple rule is that no information should be kept from responding companies. If a dispatcher or call taker knows it, we must know it as well. Keep no secrets! And while quick information related to rapid dispatch is important, all follow-up information must be relayed as we are responding. In this case, when the caller advised that there were oxygen tanks in the house, responding companies were also made aware and that caused a change in initial tactics. Kudos to the Kenton County fire dispatchers on this run.
- Command-level pre-arrival direction — When we first read about the assistant chief giving orders to the first-due companies before he was on the scene, I wondered about that. But once I understood the reasoning, it was logical. While in most cases command officers would normally wait to be on scene prior to directing operations, there are, on occasion, some justified reasons for providing direction. In this case, while odds are that the first-due companies would have not entered due to the dispatchers' information about the tanks being inside, the assistant chief's radio transmission affirmed that and clarified any thoughts of doing anything different. As stated, it should be rare for a command officer to need to do that, but on occasion, there may be good reasons that goes well beyond "trusting" the first due, with some verified trust, and simply "looking out" for the firefighters in a positive manner.
- Fire apparatus and non-apparatus placement — Apparatus and equipment placement is always a factor in fires. In this case, with two ambulances arriving first due, their "out-of-the-way" placement would help so that if they do have to transport, they can. I was at a very serious fire last year with numerous extremely critical victims and, in that case, several EMS units arrived prior to additional fire companies. When that happens, those units not only can be in the way, but can also get blocked in. A good reminder is to keep the fire area free for fire apparatus and for command units, ambulances and police cars to take positions that would generally allow the fire companies to operate.
Size-up — Size-up by the first-due officer sets the basis for the operations. In this case, as companies were laying out, the officer sized it up and that included a full 360-degree walk-around of the dwelling — outstanding. The "360" does just that — allows you to have a full view of the structure and the conditions you will be dealing with. If you see only the front, side A, and fail to do the "360," you literally are operating three-quarters blind.
Also, keep in mind that there are two "major considerations" when sizing up. The first is what we traditionally do — we size-up to determine "what we have" — construction, occupancy, area, life hazards, weather, apparatus (and staffing) water supply, exposures, age, access, location of fire/determination of your fire problem, time, height, etc. But the "other" consideration of your size-up is, "Now that I know what I have, what do I have available right now to start dealing with that and what will I need as time goes on? The best way to plan for that is to pre-plan with "heavy" first-alarm assignments so that you are reasonably assured of the needed resources before you need them.
- It's still hot in there — Extinguished fire debris can hold enough heat to affect and rupture aluminum tanks. Enter only when you are confident that this factor is under control. In all cases where entry must be made (sooner for life/rescue), the use of a thermal imager is critical.
- Getting in...getting out — Determining how you are going in also includes how you are getting out. As a part of that, determining whether you must go in is a part of your size-up. In most cases, we do go in. In some cases, we may not. Your size-up determines that. When going in, keep multiple exit routes known, protected and open. In this case, the members made it out.
- Accountability and tracking your members — Accountability in and out of structures must be a top priority. The best "accountability system" is, and always will be, good company officers ensuring that they know where and what their firefighters are doing at all times.
- Rapid rescue and intervention — In this case, the rapid intervention team was on scene and ready to go, but thankfully both firefighters exited the building. Consider what is dispatched on their first-alarm assignments based on the reported fire. Do you have enough firefighters to deliver water, stretch lines, force entry, vent and search? What about command and control along with the other critical functions required on every dwelling fire?
- Water on the fire — A (if not the) primary task of a fire department is our ability to get water on the fire, quickly and effectively, to protect ourselves, remove occupants, and confine and extinguish the fire. In this case, the use of a 2½-inch line on the defensive attack prevented more bottles from failure. Go with big lines when the situation may demand it while considering maneuverability and needed flow.