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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I was at the end of the driveway by Schuetz. I believe that by having my gear on correctly, with no skin showing, I did not get injured. Schuetz and Marker were being attended to by the ambulance crew that was on scene. Once I knew that the Engine 4 crew was taken care of, I thought that the rest of my crew from Quint 5, Stolz and Summer, were still inside the garage, which had a great deal of fire coming from it. I did not know they had already retreated to the house near the front door. Ward said, "I want this 2½ in service now." I took the nozzle from Engineer Bobby Bartlett. He charged it and I flowed the line into the garage. Seconds later, I saw the rest of my crew outside with their hoseline. I was eventually relieved on the 2½-inch line. Ward then told me that I needed to be evaluated by the ambulance crew. While I was in the ambulance, the ambulance crew looked me over and discovered the outside layer of my hood was burned through and most of the Velcro on my gear was melted shut. I was checked out and cleared by the paramedics and reported back to staging. I assisted with overhaul and picking up fire equipment until Quint 5 was cleared from the scene.

These comments are based on Chief Goldfeder's observations and communications with the writers and others regarding this close call:

Several points are worth discussing after a review of this fire:

  • Staffing. There are few departments where staffing is not a challenge. While some readers may be surprised at the two-firefighter staffing, with the engineer setting the pump and going to join the officer, it is reality for many, many fire departments. Once a specific level of staffing is reached, or known as in the case with volunteer firefighters responding from home or work, the fire department leadership has an obligation to realistically determine what it can and cannot do with what it is given to work with. (For volunteer or call departments where members are responding in, and are not in quarters, the leadership of any fire department has an obligation to develop systems so that command officers either know who is available for call or, when dispatched, have a system where members can immediately acknowledge that they are responding, allowing command officers to decide whether more immediate response from other resources is warranted. The days of "waiting to see who shows up" are over and can be solved through leadership using low-cost technology or a more rigid scheduling system. The obligation is not only to the community, but to the members of the department so they know that additional staffing is on the way.)

    Firefighting is task specific based on predictable conditions. No matter how hard we try, we cannot do all the needed tasks (establish water, set/operate the pump, stretch handlines, vent, enter, search, attack, command, etc.) with fewer firefighters than are expected based on factors such as structural features, occupancy, required fire flow, required fire tactics, fire conditions, response time and distance traveled, to name a few. On the other hand, if we know what our minimal staffing is, we can train, drill and operate a specific way, doing as much as we realistically can without kidding ourselves and the public, which can lead to horrific consequences.

    The LFRD knows ahead of time what its minimal staffing is, and its leaders have specific procedures in place that provide clear operational direction. Would they like more staffing? Who wouldn't? But having to operate with a specific amount of staffing is just the way it is. Fortunately, the LFRD has an on-duty crew of career firefighters as well as a significant number of trained volunteer firefighters who help increase the staffing.

    The issue, then, is for any fire department's leaders to determine what they can do, in what amount of time they can do it in and what they cannot do. Again, timing is a big factor. The less required staffing, the longer it takes to get the specific tasks done because there are simply fewer firefighters to do it. In a fire situation, when we cannot simultaneously do the needed tasks in coordination by command, the fire advances more quickly than we can handle it, creating another set of potential problems.

  • Protective clothing. Fortunately, the firefighters were geared up or gearing up outside when the explosion occurred. I generally try to put myself in the position of those involved in these close calls and I don't think I would have been packed up any faster or wearing all my gear while standing outside as they were gearing up and preparing to go in.
  • Fireground emergency training. The LFRD has trained for just this sort of situation. The members all knew what to do and what not to do when the explosion occurred. How did that happen? Training.
  • Emergency notification policies. What is your fire department's policy for handling an emergency when the emergency affects your fire department? The use of critical incident response teams, chaplains and related support-service members are essential to ensure that all aspects of the emergency are handled. What is your fire department's procedure for handling the family notifications, transportation, media and other challenges that will arise when an emergency does occur?