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The December Close Calls column began a report about a Mayday for a firefighter down that occurred during a fire in a three-story wood-frame structure in the town of Mexico, ME.
This account is by Chief Scott Dennett of the Dixfield Fire Company:
At the time of the man-down incident, I had arrived on scene and had been appointed as staging officer. I was in the area that had been established for staging prior to my arrival. Prior to going to the building, one of the firefighters in the three-man team informed me of their assignment. They would go the third-floor porch and attempt to observe and attack any active fire they could from the outside. He indicated they were not going inside. I was then involved with trying to relocate the staging area because it was in a high-noise area and communication was difficult.
My first indication that something was going on was the blasting of horns from Mexico's engine. I had not heard the Mayday call, I feel at least in part because of the close proximity to the noise of the apparatus. As I looked to the building, I could see one of the firefighters enveloped in smoke, obviously summoning assistance to his location.
As I moved toward the command area, I could hear that there was a man down. My assumption at this point was that one of the firefighters had succumbed to a physical condition or exertion. Numerous firefighters were already responding to the third floor to assist. I estimate that in less than five minutes they were removing the downed firefighter down the stairs where he was immediately loaded onto a stretcher and moved toward the waiting ambulance.
I was asked to assume command to allow the incident commander, a deputy chief, to remove himself from the incident. Once the commotion had subsided, I moved to resume fire operations, somewhat in an effort to get the minds of the remaining firefighters off what had just happened. After a few tactical changes with hoselines, apparatus and remaining manpower, we completed the incident.
I credit the rapid response of firefighters in accomplishing the rescue and the expertise of medical personnel involved in reviving our firefighter.
The following are lessons learned and comments by the writers from discussions with Chief Goldfeder related to this close call:
When we discussed this fire, the writers commented about the importance of always underestimating the abilities of personnel who are not fully trained and certified. But also do not overestimate the capabilities of "experienced" and trained personnel. And while I agree with that, we also must know who we are working with. It is critical for personnel to have the right training and experience, but it is also equally important to know (through training) all members of your department and especially those mutual aid departments you respond with on a regular basis. A working fire is not the time to get to know one another personally as well as to determine the training and capabilities of that "other" department.
Also, recall that the initial incident commander was overwhelmed and asked for help; an unusual, but appropriate response. Unfortunately, there have been and are command officers who will continue to "fiddle while Rome burns," without having the experience to ask for resources and personal assistance. It isn't about "being in command"; it's about commanding the incident and making it get better as quickly and safely as possible, as the initial incident commander did simply by passing command.
Some concerning observations about this fire: