How the Lessons Learned at One Fire Prevented a Similar Tragedy at Another

Last month, we discussed the tragic double firefighter line-of-duty deaths that occurred in Colerain Township, OH, on April 4, 2008. Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman, 37, and Firefighter Brian Schira, 29, died in the line of duty after the floor...


Last month, we discussed the tragic double firefighter line-of-duty deaths that occurred in Colerain Township, OH, on April 4, 2008. Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman, 37, and Firefighter Brian Schira, 29, died in the line of duty after the floor they were on collapsed at a fire in a...


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The first alarm for the fire sounded at two minutes and 46 seconds past midnight as dispatchers received several reports of heavy smoke rolling across the street. At the time, the on-duty shift had been depleted by a response to an EMS call that had come in 18 minutes earlier. Lieutenant Johnson and Firefighters Moog, Chad Brown and Joe Koelsch responded to the fire from Defiance's Central Fire Station. Simultaneously, automatic call-in of all available off-duty full-time and auxiliary personnel was initiated and the Noble Township Fire Department was dispatched on automatic aid.

"Had I not done a 360, I believe we would have made entry at the front door of the structure and the conditions we encountered would have been dire," said Lieutenant Johnson, who has nearly 12 years of experience. "With the initial response of four personnel, no one would have been available for any rescue operations, had they even noticed there was a problem in a timely manner. At this time, Firefighter Brown was running the engine and Firefighter Koelsch was finishing the hydrant connection."

Lieutenant Johnson's company arrived four minutes and 12 seconds after the first alarm. A review of radio traffic indicates that Lieutenant Johnson and Firefighter Moog would have been masked up and through the front door with a charged 1¾-inch pre-connect within the next 1½ minutes had Lieutenant Johnson not conducted the 360. The pair would have been inside for roughly a minute before Firefighter Koelsch opened the hydrant and made his way to the front door to feed hose, two minutes before Chief Schlosser arrived on scene and 6½ minutes before call-back personnel began to arrive with additional apparatus.

"On arrival, I observed heavy smoke conditions and fire from the rear of the structure," said Chief Schlosser. "The first-in engine had dropped a line from the hydrant, which was charged, and lines were stretched to the front and side of the structure."

Chief Schlosser's observations reflect the traditional aggressiveness — and speed — of Defiance firefighters. First-due Defiance firefighters do not waste any time in making entry into burning buildings unless conditions are obviously too dangerous. They know that the remainder of the initial alarm assignment, on average, lags eight minutes behind arrival of the first-in company. They know their best chance to safely stop a working fire is with a quick hit. On average, Defiance firefighters save three out of every four occupied structures involved in fire in the city — yet, they have not suffered a single serious fireground injury in more than 25 years.

Hence, it was difficult for Defiance firefighters to even consider slowing down on arrival at a structure fire for a 360-degree size-up that had been the responsibility of the first-arriving chief officer. However, through training brought on in part by Colerain Township's loss, Defiance firefighters have developed procedures to still rapidly deploy on the fireground with the intent of making an aggressive interior attack — at the same time the first-arriving officer performs the 360. The procedures do not slow firefighters in getting a charged line to the door; but the 360 protects them from going through the door into a situation from which they could not return.

"As we approached the residence, the smoke was very dense, obscuring a good view of the scene," said Lieutenant Johnson. ". As Firefighter Moog packed up, I advised him that I was going to do a 360 of the house. I placed a set of irons in the area of the front door, where I had assumed we would make entry. I started walking around toward the D side. As I approached the D-C corner of the structure, I found heavy flames coming from all levels — basement, main level and roof area — of the C side. Flames were bluish in color, leading me to believe we may have had a gas line leak. As I continued around the house, I found the gas shutoff on the A side, but was unable to turn it off. At this time, Firefighter Moog was waiting for me with a line stretched to the front door. I advised Firefighter Moog of the conditions I had encountered, and advised we would be making a defensive attack at the rear of the structure."

Photos taken by a Defiance police officer and Chief Schlosser early in the incident confirm that the view from the street was of what appeared to be a 1½-story structure with no visible fire. From Side C, however, the simultaneous view was of the walkout basement fully involved with extension to the main floor and above.