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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My initial action plan was to make entry into the home and ensure that the door leading from the garage into the home was not compromised by the fire and that we could keep the fire from extending into the home. Upon entry, we had light smoke conditions inside the home and no heat. With the charged 1¾-inch line, we opened the walk-in door to the garage in hopes of darkening down the fire from our position. We encountered heavy smoke conditions and moderate heat. We immediately encountered a heavy storage load inside the garage, which along with the smoke conditions prevented us from being able to see directly into the garage.

I advised Summer we were going to advance only a few feet inside the garage due to the storage and smoke conditions. Once inside five to six feet, we still were unable to find any fire. We backed out of the garage and into the living area of the home to regroup and do a face-to-face with Ward. It was decided to cut a large hole in the main garage door for better access and fire attack. We made one more attempt to get water on the fire from inside the structure while crews outside were preparing to cut the door. Again, we went inside five to six feet and encountered the same conditions, including what sounded like a propane cylinder venting. This was reported to command and we backed out and into the living area of the home. We pulled two sections of ceiling inside the home near the garage wall to check for fire extension in the attic and found only light smoke.

We could hear Hessler starting to cut the main garage door while we were monitoring the conditions inside the home and attic. At this time, we heard a large explosion that blew open the walk-in door leading from the home into the garage. We immediately shut that door and evacuated the structure through the front door. We found the garage door partially blown off its tracks and several firefighters lying at the end of the driveway, being attended to by paramedics and firefighters. We found a large amount of fire inside the garage from the now-damaged large garage door. Using a 1¾-inch line, along with a crew with a 2½-inch line, we darkened down the fire inside the garage.

Once the bulk of the fire was knocked down, we were reassigned inside the house to check for extension while the crew with the 2½-inch line continued to cool the inside of the garage. We entered the home and continued to monitor the conditions inside the home and the attic space. Although we encountered moderate to heavy smoke in the attic space, it quickly dissipated once the garage was vented. The fire was confined to the garage and did not extend into the living space or attic of the home.

It's important to note that this incident presented as a "typical" garage fire, if there is such a thing. At no time was there ever any indication from the outside that we had anything more than a garage fire with the normal hazards associated with this type of an incident. Garage fires are a very dangerous and frequent type of incident that fire departments respond to each and every day across the country. This one proved to be anything but "typical" for the crews from our department on the evening of Oct. 27.

This account is by Engineer Kevin Hessler, first-due apparatus operator:

I was the engineer of Quint 5 that day. We were met by the homeowner a few houses away from his house. He stated that he had a fire in his garage and there was a propane tank inside. I positioned the quint for fire attack, put the pump into gear, got out of the rig and assisted Firefighter Rick Summer with stretching the green line (a 1¾-inch pre-connected attack line). Once the line was on the ground, I charged the line. Lieutenant Vance Stolz requested an additional set of irons at the front door; I accomplished this task and returned to the quint. I was then assigned by Battalion Chief Greg Ward, the incident commander, to cut an access hole in the garage door.

I went back to the quint to get my SCBA and a circular saw. I then went to the end of the driveway on the sidewalk to get all of my gear on (full bunker gear and SCBA). Once I was geared up, I proceeded to the garage door, where I made an assessment of the door. I clipped in the regulator to my facepiece, then fired up the saw and started to make my first cut when the Engine 4 crew arrived. Engine 4 Lieutenant Dave Schuetz said, "Let's get this door opened up." The Engine 4 crew (Schuetz and Firefighter Braden Marker) were putting the rest of their gear on behind me to my left side. I finished my first cut and started the second cut. During my second cut, an explosion ignited, sending the Engine 4 crew and me flying in the air down the driveway. I was engulfed in flames from the explosion and everything went silent. I threw the circular saw to my right, knowing the Engine 4 crew was to my left.