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Single-family-dwelling fires. For most of us, that's the most common structural fire we respond to, also know as a "bread-and-butter" run when the tones go off. But while in some minds the response can be considered "routine," unless this is the first time you have read this column, you know there is nothing routine about any kind of run — especially the single-family-dwelling fire.
Between issues such as building construction (and these days, lightweight wood construction is getting lighter, more fragile and collapsing quicker when burning), access to the structure due to long driveways, subdivision access as well as not knowing "what is in that house" — the dangers are clear. Fire spread can be hotter and faster these days due to the construction and fire load — and how the loads are manufactured. For example, the "sofa" of today is not the "sofa" of past-generation firefighters due to the way it is made and the materials used to make it. A 100% plastic sofa may give the appearance of being made of cloth and wood, but when it's burning, it creates a much hotter and faster-burning fire.
When responding to a dwelling fire, firefighters must be familiar with such tactical considerations such as access, the neighborhood, specific construction types, company roles and assignments, operating tactics and water availability, all well before the alarm is transmitted. Firefighters must arrive and be "ready to work" with full head-to-toe personal protective equipment (PPE), including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), gloves, hoods, radio, lights, tools and all that your department considers to be required.
Additionally, firefighters must be aware that literally "anything" could be in that house — and they must be prepared to deal with it. For example, in my earlier days, we never heard the term "meth lab," but today they are found (and have injured firefighters) in ALL types of neighborhoods. Fires in private dwellings kill and injure firefighters, even when we are fully prepared while attempting to save a life. Unfortunately, injury or the loss of firefighters in the line of duty happens more often when we are not prepared.
The Loveland, CO, Fire & Rescue Department (LFRD) protects 80,000 citizens from six fire stations answering an average of 5,000 runs annually, which includes EMS first response. The department consists of 54 career members and 35 volunteers, all of whom pull shifts in quarters. Off-duty volunteer firefighters along with off-duty career members are also subject to recall based on the incident. Staffing consists of two stations with three on-duty personnel minimum and four stations with two on-duty personnel minimum in addition to the on-duty battalion chief as the area-wide tour commander. Staffing is dynamic, based on time of day, but by policy never drops below 14 plus the battalion chief.
On Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007, at 9:28 P.M., a first alarm was transmitted for the LFRD (three engines, one 105-foot quint, a battalion chief and a Thompson Valley EMS paramedic unit) for a report of a residential structural fire. Quint 5 arrived on scene within three minutes and the company officer, Lieutenant Vance Stolz, reported a "working fire." Stolz finished the size-up and updated responding units that the fire appeared to be in the garage, firefighters were preparing for an interior attack and all occupants were out of the house.
The Quint 5 crew entered the front door of the home with a 1¾-inch attack line; the walk-in door to the garage was just inside the front door of the house. Battalion 1 arrived on scene and established command. Quint 5 reported heavy smoke, no visibility and moderate heat in the garage; the crew was unable to advance more than five feet into the garage due to the high volume of storage in the garage. Command advised the crew to pull back out of the garage and hold the fire to the garage.