Take Cover — Incoming! Projectiles at Vehicle Fires

Not too many years ago, it seemed that a car fire was a simple bread-and-butter job. But when we look at the potential for things to go wrong on a car fire, "bread-and-butter" is the last thing we think of. Think of the numerous potential problems that...


Not too many years ago, it seemed that a car fire was a simple bread-and-butter job. But when we look at the potential for things to go wrong on a car fire, "bread-and-butter" is the last thing we think of. Think of the numerous potential problems that can occur on a car fire: The response...


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Not too many years ago, it seemed that a car fire was a simple bread-and-butter job. But when we look at the potential for things to go wrong on a car fire, "bread-and-butter" is the last thing we think of.

Think of the numerous potential problems that can occur on a car fire:

  • The response itself (we have to get to the scene without hurting others or ourselves)
  • Arrival on the roadway (the clearly documented issues of stopping and operating on a road or highway)
  • Arrival in a structure, or up against a structure or other exposure (one engine and a few firefighters — now what do we do?)
  • Is the car occupied as a result of a crash or unusual circumstances such as suicide or crime related?
  • What is in the car (you name it, it can be found in a car, including "mobile" meth labs)?
  • The smoke and off-gassing of the car — mask up, do not breathe that stuff
  • What are the hazards of the car itself, such as the fuel and the subject of this month's close call — projectiles?

The Danbury, CT, Fire Department protects about 80,000 residents plus commuters and visitors. The department's career division is comprised of 118 members in five locations. Six engine companies and a truck company are fully staffed 24/7. The department is also a keystone in the state's regional response plan with a number of resources of the state being housed in Danbury. These resources will respond when called upon by the state and are staffed by Danbury firefighters. In addition to the career division, the Danbury Fire Department has 12 volunteer companies. The volunteer companies respond to fires and other emergencies as well as assisting with traffic control with specially trained fire police.

Our sincere thanks to Chief of Department Geoff Herald and Lieutenant Heather Anderson, Firefighter/Driver Jon DeJoseph and the members of the Danbury Fire Department for their assistance with this month's close call.

This account was provided by Danbury Fire Department Lieutenant Heather Anderson:

It was shift change on Sept. 12, 2009, and a call came in for a car fire. It was quickly upgraded to a possible structure fire as reports indicated the vehicle was against a building. Our engine arrived first on scene to find a 1987 Volvo 780 backed up against a brick commercial building. The building was not involved, but the engine compartment was fully engulfed.

We stopped short of the vehicle, about 40 feet away and at an angle. While giving my size-up on the radio, I heard a loud bang. We initially thought it was a tire exploding, but I heard my driver utter some choice words. I looked over and saw a half-dollar-sized hole in the windshield right near the driver's face. It turns out that there were several pieces of glass in the apparatus driver's eye, resulting in a scratched cornea (the driver was fully recovered by the next shift).

Initially, we thought that only the metal bumper had struck the engine and caused all of the damage. The assistant chief saw the debris flying through the air as he pulled on to the scene and there was a good-sized impact mark on the front of the vehicle below the hole in the windshield. A large section of bumper was found in the middle of the road next to the engine.

Days later, we realized that a small piece of the bumper piston had flown through the windshield and ended up behind the officer's airpack in the front seat. Timing played into our favor because had this been 30 seconds later, the debris that impacted the engine could easily have hit the crew stretching the hoseline to extinguish the fire.

We learn in our training that in order to safely approach a vehicle fire, we should approach at 45-degree angles to the front and rear of the vehicle. We know that we should be mindful of overhead wires and attempt to park uphill from a burning vehicle. After this incident, we realized that we also should have positioned the apparatus farther away from the incident. Parking farther away encourages crews to use a longer hoseline and start applying water from an appropriate angle, yet farther away from potential projectiles.

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