Last month, we began reporting on a dwelling fire that would change the way the Loudoun County, VA, Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management (LCFR) would operate forever. During the May 25, 2008, fire, seven members of the Loudoun County fire-rescue system were injured, four of them...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse.Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network:
Last month, we began reporting on a dwelling fire that would change the way the Loudoun County, VA, Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management (LCFR) would operate forever. During the May 25, 2008, fire, seven members of the Loudoun County fire-rescue system were injured, four of them seriously with burns. The members are sharing their story here in an effort to reduce and prevent firefighter injuries and line-of-duty deaths (LODDs). Last month's column featured an overview of the incident with observations by Deputy Fire Chief Jonathan R. Starling of the Sterling Volunteer Fire Company, Stations 11 and 18 of LCFR, who was the incident commander:
The following are comments and observations by Captain/Station Commander Micah Joel Kiger of LCFR, who was interior:
While responding to a commercial building fire in Leesburg on Ashburn's Reserve Engine 6, a different box alarm was being transmitted to box area 22-03 for a house fire. Leesburg Company 1 was on the scene of the initial box alarm, stating that they had nothing showing and were in investigation mode. Upon receipt of that transmission, I attempted to make contact with Battalion Chief 2, requesting permission to divert to the secondary fire. Among all of the other radio traffic, it is believed that we were granted permission to respond on the secondary fire since we were in close proximity at that point.
Reserve Engine 6 diverted to the secondary fire without confirmation being made through the battalion chief regarding the first assignment. We were approximately 2½ miles from the secondary fire, with a thin column of black smoke visible from that area. We arrived on the scene and established our own water from a hydrant in the cul-de-sac, positioning Reserve Engine 6 nearest Side Bravo. My initial on-scene report consisted of something to the effect of, "Reserve Engine 6 to Loudoun. We're on the scene with a two-story single-family dwelling. Got a fire that appears to be running Side Charlie or it's in the attic. I'll get back to you in a minute."
Before exiting the cab, Firefighter Brandy Lapole was instructed to pull the irons pack and thermal imager since we knew that the truck company would be delayed. We exited the engine, Firefighter Lapole went to the front door on Side Alpha and I began my walk-around counter-clockwise to Side Charlie. There was visible/vented fire showing from what was believed to be a bedroom on Side Charlie, floor two. There was also fire on the exterior of the structure, believed at that point to be from dripping/melting vinyl siding. There was obvious fire blowing from a bump-out on the rear of the structure at the level of the windows and eaves. As a point of clarification, this would be considered the third floor on the rear, second floor from the front since this home had a walk-out basement.
A 360-degree walk-around was not completed due to the terrain and partial fencing behind the residence. (Columnist's note: Battalion Chief 1, who arrived as the second chief, was able to access the rear from the A/D side.) Prior to voicing my situation report, I instructed Tower 6 that nobody was outside to meet us and that they were going to have to do a search. I then voiced my situation report to communications, restating the initial findings and confirming a working fire on the number-two floor, Side Charlie, establishing command and requesting to transfer ASAP.
I proceeded to Side Alpha to meet up with Firefighter Lapole. She was donning a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and asked me, "Where are we going, Cap?" I told her that it was on the second floor, center of the house, and was vented. I pulled on my facepiece, put my helmet on, tightened my chinstrap and pulled on my gloves. During the course of this, I told Brandy to take a deep breath, then I tapped on her helmet front and asked "Are you ready, kid?" and she nodded yes and I said, "Let's go get it."
Firefighter Lapole and I made entry through the front door on Side Alpha, finding limited visibility through very light-colored smoke, without notable heat on the first floor. We immediately found a staircase to our left and we proceeded to the second floor. While ascending the stairs, Sterling Volunteer Fire Company Chief 11 (Deputy Chief Jon Starling) arrived on the scene as the first-arriving command officer, assuming command on Side Alpha. After making a right at the top of the stairs, we entered a bedroom on Side Charlie that was actively involved with fire. Firefighter Lapole began flowing water and I began to perform a search from the line.
I was carrying a multi-purpose hook and finished clearing out a window in the bedroom that had already broken. I left Firefighter Lapole alone on the line twice to accomplish this as well as start a primary search of the room, maintaining voice contact with her throughout the operation. At this point, I was able to walk bent over as I searched the room. Simultaneously, Tower 6's crew had already begun doing a search on the number-two floor and we had made voice contact with each other as they bypassed the room that we were in so that they could search an alternate bedroom. After returning to the line for the second time, visibility started to decrease further and heat conditions seemed to come from all around us versus from a forward position. I called command on the radio, asking if we were making any progress because visibility was now zero. He advised that we were starting to make progress.
The heat started becoming very uncomfortable, visibility basically non-existent. I adjusted the fire stream to a wider fog pattern and told Firefighter Lapole to start working it around. I gave the order to back out just prior to the conditions deteriorating rapidly. We turned to exit the bedroom and fire was now meeting us from below through the second-floor railing.
We were met by Firefighter Jackie Shingleton (Tower 6) on the second-floor walkway. I remember hearing Lieutenant John Earley (Tower 6 officer), but do not remember exactly what was said. Knowing that we were cut off, I tried to call command on my radio — it didn't work and it felt like my fingers were melting into the lapel mic. I instructed Firefighter Shingleton to call a Mayday. We repositioned the line, trying to fight the fire back down the stairs.
No progress was being made and my firefighter stated that she had no pressure. I took the hoseline from her, trying to diagnose the problem. The hoseline would gain pressure with the bail closed, but when the bail was opened, there wasn't enough pressure to make any usable fire stream. The fire continued to grow and was blowing over the top of us like a jet engine. Other than seeing the yellow-orange flames blowing around us, visibility was zero and the heat was absolutely intolerable.
At this point, both Firefighter Shingleton and Firefighter Lapole were screaming exactly what I was thinking: "We're burning up!" I yelled at them, telling them to keep moving as about three thousand other things were going through my head. I thought that we were going to die, and I thought that Lieutenant Earley was already dead because I had no contact with him. I wondered what I was going to do when my facepiece melted off, I wondered how much hotter the air that we were breathing was going to get, I wondered if we were going to find another way out, I wondered if we were going to have to find something to cover ourselves up with to try to shield ourselves from the heat and flames.
I instructed Firefighter Lapole to get a hold of me and not let go. I maintained voice contact with Firefighter Shingleton, unable to see him. No voice contact was ever made with Lieutenant Earley after the rapid deterioration occurred (he and Firefighter Shingleton ducked back into the bedroom in an effort to shield themselves from the heat, Lieutenant Earley then got cut off by collapse as determined after the fact). I led the group down the hallway, first entering a bathroom. I recognized the tile/linoleum floor in the bathroom after my hands slid across it. I turned right back out into the hallway, continuing in a right-hand manner.
The three of us ended up in a bedroom on Side Bravo/Quadrant Bravo. We were trying to keep moving, reaching as high as we could without standing up, feeling for a window. A ground ladder that had been thrown on the exterior (Side Charlie/Quadrant Bravo) had broken through the window across the room from us. Hearing the sound of breaking glass, I moved toward that sound. Visibility was zero in the room that we were in. We were completely on top of the window opening before we knew that there was a window there. Firefighter Shingleton and I began breaking out the remaining glass with our fists, to include the screens. Still to this point, we had no contact with Lieutenant Earley, despite numerous attempts yelling for him.
Firefighter Lapole was instructed to go first. She bailed out the window head first onto the ladder, getting hung up in the process. Her wrist and arm became hooked at the top of the ladder. Hearing her yelling that she was stuck, I hung out the window head first down to my waist level and grabbed her hand, then her SCBA straps, rolling her back onto the ladder so that she could continue down. I climbed back into the window and Firefighter Shingleton was the next out, doing a ladder slide. While waiting, I continued to yell for Lieutenant Earley and had no answer. I climbed out onto the ladder and climbed down in a normal fashion. As a group, we proceeded to the front of the house because that is where we knew that the help would be located.
We couldn't get our gear off fast enough; it was still holding heat against our skin. I remember yelling to the safety officer, telling him that Lieutenant Earley was still missing. We were all burned to some degree. Firefighter Shingleton looked at me after pulling his gloves off (his skin was hanging off of his hands and fingers), telling me "I'm burned, Cap, I'm burned." All I could tell him was, "I know, Jackie, I know, I'm gonna try to get us help." Our gear got dumped in a neighbor's yard. Looking at the scene from Side Alpha now, the entire house is engulfed with fire — what the hell happened since we went in there?
Someone then came up to me and told me that Lieutenant Earley was out. I had to see it for myself. I ran across the yard to see them putting him on a stretcher. He was screaming from the pain — it meant he was alive! They rushed him up the street, loaded him into the medic unit and began working on him. Jackie was getting care where we dumped our gear, Brandy was getting care to the rear of Lieutenant Earley's medic unit, and I started getting care after I had a lieutenant get in my face and tell me that everyone else was taken care of and to let him do his job, because I was hurt too. We were transported in separate units; Brandy and I to Loudoun Hospital-Lansdowne by separate medic units, Jackie and John by separate helicopters to Washington Hospital Center-MedStar in DC…I wanted to be there with each and every one of them.
The reality sinks in after seeing every crew member hurt because of a decision that you make. I've now had about a year to think about the incident and the scenario runs through my head each and every day, probably hourly. This incident opened the eyes of our department, our crews, our families, our friends and ourselves. Being able to live to tell the tale another day means that we've been given a second chance for a reason.
Lessons learned and personal observations from Chief Starling:
- Personnel accountability — It is imperative to maintain accountability of units and personnel at all times. As command officers, we rely on the unit officers to give us their accountability tags/cards/passports prior to entering the structure or to leave them in a place where the incident commander can get them. This must be standardized in your jurisdiction and everyone must follow it. During our incident, some of the tags were on the dashboards of units, some mounted on the door and a few carried by the officers.
- Staffing at the command post — It is imperative to expand the size of your command post staff as the incident size or complexity increases. The number of jobs that need to be done exceeds the ability of a lone individual to accomplish. Prior to the Mayday, my attention was diverted by trying to write down unit assignments and locations on my command board. This caused me to look away from the building for several minutes. Had I been able to stay focused on the building, I may have seen the changing conditions prior to the crews becoming trapped. Having watched a bystander's video several hundred times, I can see that the smoke was growing darker, more intense and more violent as the incident progressed. I learned about all of these signs in a class on reading smoke, but I wasn't able to use what I learned until it was too late.
- Communicating with a trapped crew — Once a Mayday is declared, it is imperative to maintain contact with the crew. Determining their location, air status, accountability and what resources they need to evacuate are critical. I made the decision to conduct verbal announcements to evacuate the structure initially. Having the dispatcher sound the evacuation tones and make a verbal announcement would have overridden any fireground communications for 20-30 seconds. This could be a crucial few seconds for the crew trapped inside. The tones were sounded shortly after hearing that crews had evacuated from Side Charlie and we changed to a defensive mode of operation.
- After the Mayday — Once the incident began to slow down, it was very obvious that we required Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) for all the personnel involved in the incident. CISM resources were called in and as units cleared the fireground, they were directed to report to Fire Station 6 for rehab, to provide statements to the department's health and safety officer, and to meet with a CISM team member if they desired. Most personnel met with CISM personnel that day. For the next several months, personnel were given multiple opportunities to meet with the CISM team or other mental health professionals. This is imperative for the well-being of everyone involved. The memories and the pain of this incident will last a lifetime, and so should the CISM care.
- Securing the scene and personal protective equipment (PPE) of personnel involved in the Mayday — Personnel began securing the PPE of the involved personnel as soon as they could. A member of the Fire Marshal's Office worked with the incident safety officer to gather the gear and store it in a secured area. Everything was treated as evidence to ensure integrity throughout the investigation. This was done with the utmost of care and respect for the injured personnel. But, the gear was stored next to personnel operating at the command post. This caused some stress to personnel who were in command during the Mayday event. If possible, an area out of the sight of personnel should be identified and the gear stored there until it can be removed from the scene.
- The investigation — Following the incident, a number of investigations were conducted. An investigation was conducted by the Fire Marshal's Office to determine cause and origin, the Virginia Department of Occupational Safety and Health conducted an investigation, and a team of fire department personnel was appointed to conduct an investigation/analysis of the incident. During the course of these investigations, personnel involved in critical positions during the Mayday provided statements and were interviewed about their roles and actions. This was an extremely stressful time. A number of people, including me as the incident commander, felt that we were being placed under a microscope. While the intent of the investigation was never to find or place guilt, it felt that way at times. It is critical that department leadership work with their staff to alleviate these fears by ensuring open and honest communication, moral support and as much information as possible.
- Training — This incident emphasizes the need for continued training in reading smoke and fire conditions, performing a proper and thorough size-up, firefighter self-rescue techniques, rapid intervention team training, calling a Mayday, command post operations in response to a Mayday and personnel accountability.
Lessons learned and observations from Captain Kiger:
- Visible fire that appears to be running the exterior of any structure should be extinguished/knocked down prior to entry. Usage of "throw-down lines" such as an initial blitz from a 2½-inch line, then transitioning to smaller attack lines should be a bigger consideration for officers.
- What you recognize on the scene and what you think you actually say on the radio are often two different things. I thought that I had verbalized that there was a full walkout basement on the rear of this structure; in fact, I did not, nor did I verbalize that the house was actually two stories from the street and three stories in the rear, although I thought that I did.
- While traveling through the first floor, I turned my head from side to side in an effort to help detect any heat changes between my facepiece and my ears…there were no notable changes.
- Training pays off ten-fold. When you need it, you don't have to think about it; instinct kicks in.
- Despite no visibility, I recognized that I was in a bathroom based on the flooring that was in there after my hands slid across the floor. I also knew that not feeling any hinges on the outside of the door meant that it was inward swinging, leading to a bedroom or bathroom.
- I knew that we were safer together (and I sure didn't want to lose contact with another person) so I had Firefighter Lapole maintaining contact with me and we kept in voice contact with Firefighter Shingleton as we moved away from the fire.
- I was already thinking about finding an area of refuge and trying to get something to pull on top of us to shield us from the heat. I figured if we could find a bedroom, it would help our chances of finding a window to get out and probably afford us the opportunity to pull a mattress on top of us if we had to do a cover.
- I was already making considerations about what to do when/if my facepiece failed or melted off.
- Thermal imagers can't work for you if you don't take them with you. Mine got pulled off the rig by my firefighter for me to take with me, but I accidentally left it next to the pumper. My thermal imager now goes with me on all investigations and fires. A thermal imaging camera would have proven useful to me while we were searching for a means of egress and during the size-up process. I'm not certain if it would have still worked with the given heat conditions, whether it would have "whited out" or whether it would have functioned appropriately. It sure wouldn't have hurt anything to have been with me and available for use regardless.
- If you have to think about whether to call a Mayday or not, it is probably about three seconds too late. If there is any situation that you get into that doesn't feel right and runs the risk of being immediately life threatening, call a Mayday; it can always be canceled. I did not wait to have a Mayday called. Conditions were deteriorating rapidly and I was busy (and my radio didn't work), so I instructed the closest firefighter to call the Mayday because we were cut off.
- Firefighters do not take kindly to being separated, regardless of injuries.
- It took me two weeks after the incident to recall sounds (or lack thereof) and specific details of the event. Thinking back, I never heard any air horns, glass breaking, wood cracking, nothing. I heard nothing until we got into the bedroom that we ultimately bailed out of. It was hard to communicate with my crew. It was hard to hear anything on the radio. This was because the volume of smoke that we were in was keeping sound waves from traveling. If you have trouble hearing the lapel mic that is in the center of your chest, hearing yourself talk or trying to hear someone else, think about why that is happening. It is because of the dense smoke that you are sitting in. The smoke is flammable/combustible and something needs to be done with it, especially if it isn't going anywhere and is continuing to build.
- Think about what tools you carry with you. I used to carry a multi-purpose hook as a company officer, not now. The hook was helpful for opening up and breaking, but not very useful for my life safety or my crew's. I now carry a bar or multi-purpose tool. I like the fact of knowing that I have something substantial enough with me to breach walls or floors if needed. Personal preference for function prevails.
- Just because your lapel microphone doesn't work doesn't necessarily mean that your radio is not functioning. I carried my radio on the exterior of my PPE, utilizing a leather strap/case. My mic button melted out or was non-functional. The mic cord was stretched out what seemed to be 10 feet long. After the fact, it was determined that my lapel mic interface on the radio was detached, making my lapel microphone useless. If I would have just taken the radio out of the case, I would have been able to use my radio. Obviously, this was determined after-the-fact during the investigation, but a learning point nonetheless.
- One of the sickest and most helpless feelings that you can ever have is knowing that you have a crew member missing and presumed dead, then having both personnel that are with you screaming that they are burning up…and you cannot do a thing to help them! This will haunt me until the day I die.
- Wearing your PPE correctly each and every time starts at the company officer level. More often than not, I would not engage my ear flaps or the throat enclosure of my PPE. This was one of the multiple areas where I received burn injuries. Body areas where the gear was worn correctly were less damaged.
- A walk-around should be just that, a walk-around. All too often in the past, I was one of the first people to jog or run around the building, briefly doing my size-up. This incident made it very clear that you should walk, taking time to look at all features and aspects. During this size-up process, you should consider taking a wide lap around the building. I'm just as guilty as the next person taking my lap a few feet away from the structure, unable to see the "big picture" because of the distance from the building. As mentioned previously, a 360-degree size-up was not completed on this fire. I felt that I knew where the exact origin of the fire was by viewing only about half of the exterior of this residence. Lesson learned. It is also a good idea to take someone with you during your reconnaissance lap. This will give you another set of eyes on the "problem" and help arrive at a decision for action.
- Never continue through a smoke-filled atmosphere without first checking that entire level for fire before advancing to an area above it. I was confident that I knew exactly where the fire was. We never did a search of the first floor for fire, there was no obvious heat and no obvious fire conditions were meeting us, so we moved on without searching farther. This is the area where the fire "broke through" the exterior of the home, subsequently causing the flashover conditions below us.
- A full investigation of firefighter close calls and significant incidents, as was initiated by LCFR following this incident, is a very positive and influential step to make sure that we can learn from incidents like this to help prevent them in the future. True, it does bring out potential flaws in operations and/or decisions, but letting us know our own strengths and weaknesses can do nothing but make us a stronger organization.
- Lastly, our departmental support. From the moment we arrived at the medical facilities, crew members, family members and members from other departments were there to give us support. Each person we encountered was empathetic with us for what we had just gone through. Meetings and interviews with our leadership always harvested positive results. The support network was in full swing, especially from a mental health aspect. A visit from DC Fire Chief Dennis Rubin offering his support was a class act while we were at the burn center. Daily phone calls from our Chief of Department Joseph Pozzo certainly solidified the foundation of support that was received by each and every one of us. This appreciation goes beyond words that can be expressed. Firefighters from the entire Washington, DC area came to see us and look after us. We weren't in this alone and that was made very clear to us very early on into the healing process. This type of support and follow-up could very easily be a model for other departments to emulate.
As you can see, this incident certainly goes deeper than just a "close call" for our department. It was the first day of our new department, which had now survived one of the worst days in our history. Firefighters aren't taught to do anything alone…we have made it through this event together.
Final comments by Chief Goldfeder based on facts and discussions with those involved at this fire:
This close call was about as close to being a line-of-duty death as we have covered in the column since it debuted in 2001. Even though they were seriously burned, these firefighters were extremely fortunate in the outcome — and they offer some excellent lessons learned. In review, it is critical to remember:
The critical importance of 911 call taking and fire dispatch communications — "Response time" starts when the 911 phone call is answered in your dispatch center. While not specific to Loudoun, so often in the fire service, we "forget" the critical role of our call-takers and dispatchers, a role that cannot be forgotten by all affected. Our 911 call takers are essentially the first responders, knowing "what we have" before the fire department does. Training your call-takers to fully understand the role of the fire service and the importance of quickly asking the right questions is critical to the mission.
Additionally, there must be a defined balance of what questions to ask versus the importance of getting companies dispatched and "on the road" quickly. In the case of a possible structural fire, the answers to the questions "Where is it?" and "What is it?" and "What is your call-back number?" almost always will be enough to alert the companies and get them on the road. Once companies have been alerted, dispatchers or call-takers can then ask for additional information as the situation dictates, but must also remember to pass that information along to responding companies. Call-taking time, call-handling time and dispatch time are critically important along with "get-out" or "turn-out" time as a part of the overall incident response time. By dispatcher personnel fully understanding the role of the fire service, and firefighters fully understanding the role of dispatch personnel, a more effective and safe outcome can be attained.
Call for additional alarms as soon as you think you may need the help — There is no rule or law that says you must be on the scene before striking additional alarms. Listen to the dispatcher. Consider the information you have at the time. In this fire, well before companies arrived, the dispatcher advised that he had indications of this being a working fire. It is at that point that fire officers must think and ask, Why not send the second alarm? Rarely is there a reason not to.
Additionally, in this case, the first due company had "smoke on the horizon" from miles away. Get those extra companies started or even stage them a few blocks out, but get them going. For a variety of reasons, many in the fire service seem to not want to call for that help until well after they need it. That is often too late. Keep this in mind: We sometimes hesitate calling for additional alarms, but we get annoyed when we are those companies that are next due and "they" don't call us soon enough! Strike the additional alarms and get the help there ahead of the game; after all, the fire was burning well before you knew about it.
- Staffing versus conditions — The first two companies arrived with four firefighters and two drivers. They had heavy fire and smoke conditions. It was midday and the weather was clear. There were no cars in the driveway and no indications of people trapped. Think about what you can do, based upon what you have, with the resources immediately available. Simply put, four to six firefighters cannot perform all the tasks simultaneously, so the first-due officer must immediately decide the priorities. While there might have been people trapped, there were no indications here. And while there still could have been someone in there, what task can be performed that best benefits the civilians, any potential trapped occupants, the firefighters and the final outcome?
- Get water on the fire — As has been said for decades, more lives have been saved on the fireground by a well-positioned and flowing hose stream than any other action. Get water on the fire. In most cases, we want to do that interior, but sometimes, that is not the most effective way to perform the task. As mentioned in the above case, a large line around back hitting the main body of fire would have been of great value and perhaps the best and immediate use of the available resources. To be clear, we are not saying to not search; rather, we are saying based on your resources at the time, determine the best good you can do for the citizens who called. If your members cannot reach potentially trapped occupants, then the firefighters and the potentially trapped citizens both become victims..
- Size-up — As advised by Captain Kiger, size-up is critical and a full walk-around was not done on his arrival. Upon entering the dwelling, he passed command to Chief Starling. Chief Starling, after hearing the captain's report, believed he had a clear understanding of the conditions, but he did not. It was only upon the arrival of Battalion Chief 601, who checked in with command and then went to Side Charlie (from the Alpha-Delta corner) that a full understanding of the fire and collapse conditions were realized. One large department that suffered the loss of two fire officers in the line of duty a few years ago has implemented a policy that requires a complete size-up with walk-around by arriving command-level officers prior to assuming command.
- Bring your stuff — This is not the first time this column has had a close call where all the equipment was not brought in. In this case, the thermal imager was left on the rig — and who among us has not done that? A lesson learned for all of us. Every fire department should have policy identifying exactly what each firefighter and officer is expected to carry upon entering the structure and it is up to us to follow that policy without exception.
- Mayday procedures — If your department had a Mayday right now, what would happen? What would it mean? What do the companies operating do? What does the dispatcher do? What does the incident commander do? Now is the time to answer those questions and develop the standard operating procedure (SOP) — and train on it. In some departments, a Mayday means a full second (or additional) alarm to the scene, additional truck companies, heavy rescue companies and whatever else may be needed to assist in the rescue of your trapped members. As noted in the April and May Close Calls columns, which reported on the Colerain Township, OH, double-firefighter-fatality fire, the incident commander needed help at the command post immediately due to the numerous tasks, but he was alone. Ensure that you have adequate command-level staffing on the first-alarm assignment.
- Know your building construction — We must understand risk management when dealing with combustible exterior siding (CES), unprotected lightweight construction materials and general fire development in today's residential structures. First, we should focus on pre-planning to identify the combination of CES and combustible sheathing, and adjust tactical planning accordingly. Even though this type of sheathing is generally outlawed today, there is plenty in place in homes constructed over the last 10-15 years, which is a threat to firefighters. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) studies are available for training on CES and they demonstrate vertical fire spread potential from ground level to roof level in as little as 2½ minutes. This could translate into the first attack line being of a "blitz" caliber, with initial stream placement on the exterior fire before we enter.
Second is the knowledge that we have of lightweight construction relative to structural collapse, especially when unprotected. The likelihood of rapid collapse of floor and roof assemblies has been well documented, and some localities (not Virginia) require labeling of structures to warn firefighters of the use of these components. We also have on-line training available on these materials via www.uluniversity.com.
Lastly, we have knowledge of synthetic materials in homes, used to construct furnishings and fixtures throughout, and documentation of their contribution to rapid fire development. These materials revert to their liquid state quickly and release vast quantities of ignitable gases in a fire, accelerating flashover. Firefighters can and should identify these threats and consider the relatively short pre-burn time needed to create a deadly environment. Essentially, we have flammable-liquid interior and exterior fires today, and the buildings will collapse. (A link to the entire report on this fire can be found at www.loudoun.gov/fire.)
WILLIAM GOLDFEDER, EFO, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service. He is a deputy chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982, has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety and survival website www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. Goldfeder may be contacted at BillyG@FirefighterCloseCalls.com.