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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Ladder 2 was placed outboard and forward of Mexico Engine 1, putting the aerial off the A-D corner. Ladder 2 was supplied via a four-inch line from Engine 7. Once a water supply was secured for the ladder, I moved to supervise B-side operations, where a 2½-inch pre-connect had been deployed to suppress fire through the right-side third-floor window by firefighters who arrived via privately owned vehicles.

As the incident progressed, my observations indicated that we were chasing the fire through the cockloft. To help prevent downward extension, I advised the incident commander that I wanted to deploy ground ladders to the B-side third-floor windows and operate a 1¾-inch handline off the ladders. The incident commander acknowledged the plan. The 2½-inch line was shut down and a 1¾-inch pre-connect was deployed off Engine 7. Before personnel ascended the ground ladders, I checked with the incident commander to ensure that personnel operating master-stream devices knew we had people "at the windows." The locations and positions of B-side personnel were continuously updated.

After a call for more resources, Mexico Ladder 14 (D/O) and Dixfield Engine 3 (D/O, officer and firefighter) arrived on scene at approximately 1:50 A.M. The Ladder 14 D/O advised command that if the Engine 7 supply line was shut down, he could position his ladder to cover the C side. The incident commander acknowledged and ordered all units affected to "make it happen." No fire was visible through any of the B-side windows, but fire was beginning to burn out a vent at the roof line. B-side operations shut down along with L-2's pipe.

During this time, the SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) members of my crew got fresh bottles while the others repositioned a ladder. Also at this time, I heard radio traffic that a rapid intervention team (RIT) had been established and a crew of three was going to the third floor to operate off the D-side porch and that these members would be operating from the outside only. At 1:56:40, water was re-supplied to Engine 7.

Between 1:56:40 and 2:04:27, I heard the incident commander radio to the crew operating on the third floor to "Back out!" This message was repeated, followed by an order to "Get out!" and then the demand "I want you on the ground now!" "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" was then transmitted. At 2:04:27, the Dixfield fire chief radioed the communications center that he had taken over command and wanted the Canton Fire Department dispatched for manpower, followed by an additional request for the Peru Fire Department at 2:05:23.

Radio traffic from the incident commander ordering the third-floor crew to get out alternated with "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" at least twice. I even thought the incident commander was calling the Mayday in an attempt to get the third-floor crew's attention. The third round of Maydays was very clearly followed by "Man down!" The SCBA members of my crew started to drift away. I told them to stay put and that a RIT had been established and would handle it. Firefighter 4 was adamant in believing that no one was taking any action. I moved to hold him back when the air horns sounded an evacuation. Firefighter 2 repeated his Mayday, adding that Firefighter 1 was trapped in a collapse. With the report of entrapment, and my own observation that chaos was unfolding, I told Firefighter 4 to "Go!"

I recall only snap-shots of events at this point...a chief officer (Firefighter 2) in a white helmet on the second-floor porch gesturing frantically to the incident commander on the ground...this image drove it home - this was not a drill, not a stuck foot, not an exhausted firefighter. A firefighter was in serious trouble.

I remember telling my Engine 7 D/O to get the saw. Somewhere along the way, I donned an SCBA and went to the incident commander with the intention of "managing" the Mayday. The incident commander, extremely concerned and overwhelmed, said to do "whatever you can do." I tried to partner with a firefighter just heading up the stairs, but could only match his pace. Arriving on the third floor, I came face-to-face with Firefighter 2 and asked, "What have you got?" "What do you mean what have I got? I got nothing!" was the angry reply. "What is your situation?" I asked calmly. This time, he gave a detailed account of what had occurred, who was involved and what action was being taken. A firefighter exclaimed, "They found him!" I went through a window - three-count lift and drag, good progress, again, some gain, again, no progress.