"It Felt Like a Bomb Went Off!" — Part 1

As firefighters, unless you work in a metro downtown or inner-city area, odds are your most common structural fire involves the single-family dwelling. In addition to building construction concerns related to firefighting (that we have discussed before in...


As firefighters, unless you work in a metro downtown or inner-city area, odds are your most common structural fire involves the single-family dwelling. In addition to building construction concerns related to firefighting (that we have discussed before in this column), the issue of "what's inside...


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As firefighters, unless you work in a metro downtown or inner-city area, odds are your most common structural fire involves the single-family dwelling. In addition to building construction concerns related to firefighting (that we have discussed before in this column), the issue of "what's inside" is also a major factor that can lead to close calls, or worse, for responding members.

While we must search to determine who may be "in there," other very significant dangers exist specific to what the occupants have brought into their own home. Firefighters have entered homes to find surprises such as dozens of poisonous snakes, car engines, meth labs, pot-growing rooms and even large airplane parts. Simply put, anything can be found in a single-family dwelling — and we have to act and expect literally anything to create further problems for us when operating.

In many respects, operating at commercial, industrial and other public buildings can be tactically more predictable because we are allowed to inspect and pre-plan with the law letting us do so, but we cannot inspect or enter single-family dwellings — so the question of "what's inside" is wide open to literally anything being in there. One of the more common "anythings" is the presence of home oxygen. In the case of this close call, eight oxygen cylinders were inside at this working house fire.

The Independence Fire District is in northern Kentucky, just outside Cincinnati, OH. The members serve the City of Independence and an area of unincorporated Kenton County covering 44 square miles with a population of 29,000. Staffing is made up of 41 full-time employees, 16 part-time employees and 12 volunteers responding out of three firehouses with three engines and one truck along with EMS and support equipment.

On this close call, the first-alarm assignment consisted of three engines, one truck, two advanced life support (ALS) ambulances and two command officers. Additional companies included two mutual aid departments, the Erlanger and Edgewood fire departments, when there were further indications that there were oxygen bottles in the home.

Our sincere thanks to Independence Fire District Chief Richard A. Messingschlager and all the officers and members operating at this fire, including Assistant Chief Jeff Armstrong, Captain Dave Murphy, Lieutenants Chad Dietz and Ron Crone, Firefighters Bryan Claybern, Larry Gross, Paul Heringer and Steve Maselli, Firefighter/Medics Darlene Payette, Joshua Cox and Rick Sturgeon, and Captain John Bidwell, who assisted with this column.

This account is provided by Lieutenant Ron Crone, the first-due officer:

I was the officer on Engine 453, which was the first engine on the scene of the fire. All fire units were informed while enroute that there were oxygen bottles inside the residence and our assistant chief advised units to go defensive for safety purposes. Squads (ambulance) 463 and 464 had arrived on the scene before Engine 453.

Upon Engine 453's arrival on the scene, I had a single-family, one-story house. The house had heavy smoke coming out the front door (side A) and eaves. I also observed heavy fire coming out a window on side D. After I gave my size-up, I did a 360 walk-around. I observed two closed windows on side A, near side B, with no smoke coming out of them, a door that was open in the middle of side A, with heavy smoke coming out, no fire, and a two-car garage with the door closed on A, near side D, no smoke or fire coming out. On side D, there was one window, near side C, with heavy fire coming out of it.

To gain access to side C, I had to open a gate in the fence. Upon entering the fence into the side-C area, I saw that the grade of the yard went down and the first floor was 10 feet above the ground level. I could see into the basement — the lights were still on and I observed that there was no fire or smoke there. The first floor on this side had two windows in the middle and a deck on side C, near side B, with a door coming from the house onto the deck. There was no fire or smoke coming from the windows or door. There was smoke coming from the eaves on side C. Walking to side B, I observed a door going into the basement, which was closed on side B, near the side-C corner; I did not see any fire or smoke coming from this side of the house.

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