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

We are receiving more and more close calls reports related to fires in single-family dwellings — and it should be no wonder, as that is the most common structural fire fought in North America. When we look at the construction type, which is almost...


We are receiving more and more close calls reports related to fires in single-family dwellings — and it should be no wonder, as that is the most common structural fire fought in North America. When we look at the construction type, which is almost always non-sprinklered lightweight wood truss, the...


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We are receiving more and more close calls reports related to fires in single-family dwellings — and it should be no wonder, as that is the most common structural fire fought in North America. When we look at the construction type, which is almost always non-sprinklered lightweight wood truss, the combustibles within today's dwellings, and the issues of training, size-up and staffing, it should be no surprise that close-call and near-miss events have the potential of increasing.

It is critical for all firefighters, fire officers and chiefs to understand that the traditional size-up of your dwelling fire, including a 360-degree walk-around, is only "half" the picture. The other "half" of the picture is the vital importance of understanding that your resources now must match what you have just sized-up. As we have stated before, if your size-up determines that you must establish water, stretch two or three hoselines, force entry, vent, search and perhaps perform rescues, then you must determine what you cannot do if your arrive with one or two companies, each with two or three firefighters.

Simply put, and especially in these horrific budget times with so many firefighters being laid off, companies being shut down or "browned out," it is essential that fire-service leaders make it clear to the elected officials and the public what their fire departments can do and what they may not be able to do, depending on conditions. There can be no arguing that if 30-plus firefighters are needed to perform the above tasks simultaneously, and you have only have five or 10 firefighters on the scene, or delayed companies due to brownouts or layoffs (or both), the required tasks will not be accomplished in the time in which they must be performed.

The math is simple — the clock keeps ticking as the fire grows and we are unable to intervene. Furthermore, that delay or that lack of adequate staffing at the time it is most critically needed will predictably lead to more property loss, more injuries or death to civilians and place firefighters at far greater risk. Keep that in mind the next time you read a story or are personally involved with some of these insane discussions in some city halls related to cutting fire staffing or response times.

While this close call is not 100% directly related to budget cuts, brownouts or reduced staffing (although the Sacramento, CA, Fire Department is going through some very difficult times), it is an excellent example of what can happen at a single-family-dwelling fire. It should be noted that the normally first-due engine on the second alarm was browned out at the time of the alarm and therefore created a delay because other companies had to travel farther.

Compare this close call to your fire department and its training, response, staffing and operational procedures. Consider what would happen if you had companies fail to turnout, in the case of call or volunteer fire departments, or had companies browned out or shut down or members laid off, in the case of career departments. What would your department expect? How would it change your operating procedures? How will cuts reduce the services your department provides to the public? How will the budgetary reductions and related changes reduce the public's ability as well as reduce your ability to survive at a fire? Lots to learn. Lots to think about.

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 is by Captain Jeff Helvin, covering officer on Engine 15:

As a department, we learned many things from this fire that almost took the lives of four of our firefighters.

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