Maine Firefighter Trapped: Part 1 - "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!"

"Back Out! Get Out! I Want You on the Ground, Now!" The towns of Rumford and Mexico are rural "mill-town" communities separated by the Androscoggin and Swift rivers in the mountains of western Maine. The population of Rumford is approximately 5,000 and...


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"Back Out! Get Out! I Want You on the Ground, Now!"

The towns of Rumford and Mexico are rural "mill-town" communities separated by the Androscoggin and Swift rivers in the mountains of western Maine. The population of Rumford is approximately 5,000 and Mexico's is just over 2,000. The Rumford Fire Department has two stations (one staffed and one call) with four engines, one truck and one rescue. The Mexico Fire Department has one station and operates two engines and a truck.

Our sincere thanks to Rumford Lieutenant Rob Dixon for his assistance, along with the cooperation of Mexico Fire Chief Gary Wentzell, who is also serving as Rumford's chief. Additionally, our thanks to all of the officers and members of the Rumford Fire Department and the Mexico, Dixfield, Peru and Canton fire departments and MedCare EMS for their cooperation in sharing this story so that others may learn.

At the time of this incident, fire protection covering the 70 square miles of Rumford was provided by a combination department that employed 11 full-time firefighters, with one as an acting chief, and 11 paid-call members. All full-time members are required to be certified Firefighter I as a minimum, and the department had four call-force members cleared for interior structural firefighting. The Rumford Fire Department (RFD) provided first-response EMS and handled approximately 1,000 combined calls for service per year.

The Mexico Fire Department (MFD) covers 24 square miles. MFD has three full-time driver/operators and 29 paid-call members with 15 cleared for interior structural firefighting, including the chief. MFD handles an average of 150 calls for service per year. As of this writing in November 2008, RFD has been reduced to minimum manning of two per shift Monday-Thursday and three per shift Friday-Sunday. This is down from four per shift just a year ago. Additionally, RFD no longer provides first-responder EMS for politically fiscal reasons. MFD has adopted RFD's annual competency program and Wentzell, the Mexico chief, is also serving as Rumford's chief on a part-time paid basis.

This account by Lieutenant Rob Dixon of the Rumford Fire Department, who initially arrived on Engine 7:

On June 28, 2008, at 1:01 A.M., the Rumford Fire Department was dispatched on automatic mutual aid to 14 Holman Ave. in the town of Mexico for a reported structure fire. Rumford responded with Engine 7 with a driver/operator (D/O) and officer and Ladder 2 (D/O), Mexico responded with Engine 1 (D/O), and a MedCare (third-service EMS) ambulance provided ALS.

At 1:04, a Rumford call firefighter arriving in his privately owned vehicle radioed the first size-up, describing a three-story wood-frame with fire showing from the third floor. Thirty-four seconds later, Mexico Engine 1 (D/O) radioed that he would be out checking the building for occupants and to have Rumford come in on Dix Avenue. Engine 7 and Ladder 2 arrived on scene at 1:07.

The Ladder 2 D/O dressed the hydrant. I exited Engine 7, and as the Rumford officer-in-charge, crossed over to meet with the Mexico incident commander at the front of the structure, while Engine 7 laid in to the A-B corner of 14 Holman Ave. I observed the C, B, and A sides of the structure. Lights on the first and second floors were on and provided a clear view showing no intrusion of smoke. A significant "glow" was visible through the third-floor window at the front of the building on the B side and heavy smoke and the appearance of heavy fire through the roof. Mexico Engine 1 was positioned on the A-D corner with two 1½-inch pre-connects off (not operating). The incident commander stated that everyone was out. We quickly discussed tactics and strategy, which we both agreed was an outside-defensive fire and we expected to burn the roof off. The initial tasks were to bring Ladder 2's pipe into operation and I confirmed fireground communication would be TAC-1.

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