"I Thought, This Is It...I Am Going To Die In This House Fire!"

What can go wrong at a single-family-dwelling fire? Last month, we began a report on a fire that occurred in Sacramento, CA, on Oct. 7, 2008, involving a two-story, wood-frame, single-family dwelling. Four firefighters nearly lost their lives after...


What can go wrong at a single-family-dwelling fire? Last month, we began a report on a fire that occurred in Sacramento, CA, on Oct. 7, 2008, involving a two-story, wood-frame, single-family dwelling. Four firefighters nearly lost their lives after becoming trapped upstairs during the fire. This...


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What can go wrong at a single-family-dwelling fire? Last month, we began a report on a fire that occurred in Sacramento, CA, on Oct. 7, 2008, involving a two-story, wood-frame, single-family dwelling. Four firefighters nearly lost their lives after becoming trapped upstairs during the fire. This month, we continue our coverage with an account from a firefighter who was involved in the incident and a discussion of the lessons learned.

Our sincere thanks to Sacramento Fire Department Chief Ray Jones, Deputy Chief Lloyd Ogan, and the officers and firefighters operating at this fire for their cooperation in providing information so that firefighters all over the world can learn. A special thanks to Fire Captain Rick Hudson (investigations) as well as Fire Captain Jeff Helvin (who was trapped in this fire) for their assistance in the preparation of this column.

This account was provided by Firefighter John Ricketts, the acting officer of Engine 18:

I was riding the captain seat of Engine 18 at the time of fire with a total crew of three — a firefighter, a driver engineer and me. Our captain was out of the station at a meeting for about three hours. Here is the timeline of events, to the best of my memory.

I responded from Station 18 and light smoke was seen coming over the freeway overpass as we approached. I arrived on scene as Engine 15 was finishing its size-up report. We positioned next to a hydrant just outside the court as Engine 15 took fire attack and passed command. I assumed "Stilt Command" and transmitted that I was on a plug and we would pull a backup line. I assigned my engineer to help Engine 15 hook to a hydrant, and assigned my firefighter (Engine 18 nozzle) to pull a backup line off Engine 15.

As I was walking up to the house, I noticed smoke from a second-floor window and Engine 15 working on light forced entry on the front door. I did a "360 walk-around" from the Delta side to the Bravo side. I noticed light smoke downstairs and two sliding doors on the Charlie side locked and not hot to the touch. I opened and unlocked the slider on the Bravo side and could see smoke at chest level and Engine 15's hoseline being advanced upstairs toward the Alpha side. I also noticed a few windows open upstairs. When I returned to the Alpha side, the Engine 18 nozzle firefighter was assisting the advance of the Engine 15 hose at the door. I assigned him to work with Engine 15 and stay with them.

At this point, Engine 30 was announcing its arrival on the radio, so I voiced that I had assigned my firefighter to Engine 15 and assigned Engine 30 a backup line. I also radioed that there was heavier smoke from Alpha-side second-floor window. I asked for a progress report from Engine 15, but their transmission was unreadable other than me hearing them state "ventilation." I stated that the message was unreadable except for the word "ventilation" and I reported that no truck company was on scene, but windows were open upstairs and a slider was open on first-floor Bravo side.

Battalion Chief 3 (BC3) arrived on the scene and transmitted the second alarm. I assigned Engine 30 to put a second line downstairs and requested BC3 to send the first-arriving engine company off the second alarm directly to the fire with their line.

At this point, two firefighters came out of the building in distress and another was on the roof above the garage in distress. After identifying the three firefighters, I called a Mayday for the Engine 15 captain, who was last seen on stairs.

As the firefighters in distress were noticed, Battalion Chief 2 (BC2) arrived and tried to take command, but I did not pass it until after the Mayday was called and I could do a face-to-face transfer. It was reported to me that Engine 15's captain was found outside the Charlie side of the structure. BC2 took command and I was assigned to keep the three burned firefighters on the Alpha side together until they were evaluated, treated and transported.

My personal comments and lessons learned are that:

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