Front Door Left Open by Occupants Advances Fire Onto Firefighters

One of the great challenges facing firefighters these days is the staffing issue. In some fire departments, staffing is generally consistent day or night — such as in a career department or an in-house-staffed volunteer department. But for departments...


One of the great challenges facing firefighters these days is the staffing issue. In some fire departments, staffing is generally consistent day or night — such as in a career department or an in-house-staffed volunteer department. But for departments whose members are responding from work or...


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The front door was open prior to our arrival. We went in and to the left three to four feet and operated the handline in the living room. The inside team of 978 was behind me at the doorway. There was a decent smoke and heat condition where we were, like a lot of fires. At some point, I felt quite a bit of heat through my bunker coat and went out the doorway onto the porch. I was told by the inside team of 978 that I turned to go back into the house, but I was turned back around and onto the front lawn where I was helped to remove my mask and bunker coat since my gear was smoking and burnt. At this point, Ex-Chief Barrow took my radio and took over 971's handline.

The following account is by Ex-Captain Mike Dauth, who was on Truck 978:

As the first-in truck company officer, my role was to gain access through the front door and find the fire. When I arrived at the door, we found it already open with a high heat and heavy smoke condition from it. Upon trying to make entry, we were forced back by a rapidly advancing fire condition. Once the hoseline was charged, we began a push inward with the hose stream having no effect on the advancing fire. At this point, the fire rolled over us and out the front door. We were forced to make a stand at the threshold of the door; this did, however, prevent the fire from extending to the second floor via the interior staircase.

My additional observations were as follows. From the A side, we had no way of knowing the extent of fire conditions in the rear. The reports from the outside vent firefighters were crucial. The wind conditions of the day were pushing the fire from the fully involved rear extension, through the house and out the front. Making a search of the fire floor was initially impossible, and accessing the second floor from the interior stairs was not recommended given the heavy fire conditions. Once second and third lines were in service, the third line knocking down the fire from the rear, we were able to get a hold on it and make an entry. Upon searching the structure, it was found that the fire did in fact blow straight through the house from rear to front. Closed interior doors kept the fire from extending into the first-floor bedrooms. Horizontal ventilation and hose stream placement kept the fire from extending to the second floor. The truck company also accomplished quick vertical ventilation over the initial fire room and controlled the services to the building.

These comments are based on Chief Goldfeder's observations and communications with South Farmingdale Fire Department Chief Steven Mormino and others regarding this close call:

When Chief Mormino and I discussed this incident, his specific concerns and thoughts about this fire were (my comments follow in parentheses):

  1. Additional manpower, but that's probably every volunteer chief's request.

    (The South Farmingdale Fire Department officers called for help immediately after dispatch. Another effective solution is automatic mutual aid where other companies and departments are dispatched simultaneously by, in this case, Fire Com based on initial telephone reports. Fire officers must remember that until adequate staffing arrives on the scene, tasks must be limited to what can be done safely, realistically and effectively. Additionally, if a building is confirmed unoccupied, any further search considerations may have to be delayed or abandoned.)

  2. Strong consideration of the use of 2½-inch line. Even though it was a private dwelling, we had an advanced fire and a heavy wind blowing in from the exposure C side of the building.

    (While many departments rarely pull a 2½-inch line for a dwelling due to its maneuverability, in some cases, it is warranted. Other departments use two-inch lines with great results, but either way the goal is more water quickly and a well-placed 2½-inch line provides that.)

  3. Quick deck gun knockdown through the front window, as occupants were confirmed out of the house. This would have been difficult due to the location of interior walls and room separation.

    (I am a big fan of the newer-style lightweight mini-ground monitors that can be deployed with minimal staffing and can quickly flow 500 gpm in addition to the chiefs' good thoughts of simply hitting it hard with the deck gun.)

  4. The success of the operation was initiated by knocking down the fire from the rear while trying to protect the interior stairs from the front door without entering. When conditions permitted, entry via the front door was made to complete extinguishment.

    (While the crews attempted to go from the unburned to the burned sides, because the wind helped the fire move so quickly, access with the wind to their backs may have made for a quicker knockdown.)

  5. Experience and training. I thank God that some of my best members were available and responded that day along with some excellent mutual aid personnel. Given a different set of circumstances, we may have had some personnel, as well intentioned and dedicated as they may be, who do not have the experience to recognize the conditions.

    (This situation can exist in any fire department — as we sometimes hear, "it all depends on who is working or who responds." To help solve that problem, an aggressive automatic mutual aid program can increase the experience levels with mutual aid command officers, and your fire department can provide the same thing back — that's why it's called mutual aid. Less-experienced members can be trained on what to do and more specifically what not to do when in doubt.)