Firefighters Engulfed! Garage Fire and Explosion

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...


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The Quint 5 engineer, who set the pump and then geared up, and the crew of Engine 4 were ordered to cut an access hole in the garage door, while Engine 1's crew stretched a second attack line to the front of the structure. At approximately 9:35, as the Quint 5 engineer was cutting the access hole with a circular saw, the Engine 4 crew was positioned on the driveway about halfway between the garage door and the street. The Engine 4 crew was donning SCBA and gloves. (It is standard operating procedure at the LFRD that on two-person companies, once the pump is set, the engineer leaves the pump and joins his or her officer in stretching the line with the next-due company engineer taking over that pump.)

At 9:36 P.M., an explosion occurred, blowing out one side of the garage door and engulfing the three firefighters operating in the driveway in a fireball. The firefighters were thrown by the explosion to the end of the driveway. They were immediately attended to by Thompson Valley EMS personnel. Two of them were transported to the Medical Center of the Rockies; the third firefighter, the Quint 5 engineer, was not injured.

Once the explosion occurred, command requested a second alarm and an additional EMS unit. A 2½-inch line was deployed to extinguish the now-heavy fire in the garage. The fire was declared under control at 9:54. During overhaul, several large propane tanks were found in the garage. Units remained on scene for several hours completing overhaul work.

The Quint 5 engineer was fully bunkered out with his SCBA on at the time of the explosion. One layer of his hood was burned and his portable radio antenna was melted, but he sustained no injury. The Engine 4 crew members who were still donning SCBA and gloves at the time sustained first- and second-degree burns, one to his face and hands and one to his hands.

Our sincere thanks to Chief of Department Mike Chard, Chief of Operations Ned Sparks, Battalion Chief Greg Ward, the members who provided the accounts below as well as all members and support service personnel operating at this incident.

This account is by Battalion Chief Greg Ward, the incident commander:

I arrived at 9:33 and established Sunridge Command. I observed heavy black smoke pushing from around the garage door and the eaves above the garage, which was in the A-B corner of the house. Quint 5 had stretched a 1¾-inch pre-connected attack line into the front door of the house. Lieutenant Vance Stolz and Firefighter Rick Summer (Crew 5) were visible just inside the front door of the house. I completed a 360 of the structure; there were no signs showing on the B or C sides.

Off-duty Lieutenant Robert Carmosino checked in with me and was assigned to assist Crew 5 with the hose advancement into the house. Stolz reported that the crew made entry into the garage from the house, but the firefighters could not see the fire, heavy smoke was within a foot of the floor and they could not advance into the garage because of the amount of storage there. He pulled his crew back into the house and planned to hold the fire to the garage. I briefly met face to face with Stolz just outside the front door; he said they could hear what appeared to be a propane tank venting off inside the garage. I believed that any propane venting off was being consumed by the fire. I advised Stolz that we were going to open up the overhead garage door with a saw.

I met with Engineer Kevin Hessler (Quint 5) and assigned him to cut a large access hole in the garage door. Engines 1 and 4 arrived on scene at 9:35 P.M. Engine 1 (Lieutenant Greg Gilbert) was assigned to stretch a second attack line to the front yard and then to complete a primary search of the structure. Engine 4 (Lieutenant Dave Schuetz) was ordered to assist Hessler with opening up the garage door. I was positioned in the front yard (A-D corner) near the sidewalk, approximately 40 feet from the house. I observed Schuetz size-up the garage door and have a brief conversation with Hessler. Firefighter Marker (E4) was donning his SCBA and gloves in the middle of the driveway. Schuetz backed down the driveway and joined Marker, donning his mask and gloves.

Hessler began to cut the right side of the lightweight metal garage door with the circular saw. Schuetz and Marker were about eight feet behind him and to the left. Hessler made one cut and was in the process of the second cut when an explosion occurred. The explosion blew out the right side of the garage door and engulfed the driveway, Schuetz, Hessler and Marker in fire. These three firefighters were thrown to the base of the driveway (approximately 25 feet) by the force of the explosion. The fireball was followed by a shower of sparks and burning embers.