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Last month, we began a report on a close call that involved 10 firefighters at a burning commercial structure in Sacramento, CA, on June 5, 2008. As we reported, nine minutes after arrival of the first-in units, a total catastrophic failure of the open-web truss system occurred while crews operated above and below the fire. No firefighters were injured, and the collapse was classified as a close call/near miss.
We have highlighted several areas in this close call to emphasize the issue and importance for the reader to understand conditions encountered. As you will read, this close call reiterates several critical factors, including:
- Command and control
- Size-up and continued size-up
- Company officers leading and being accountable for their specific crews
- Communicating (everyone on the fireground understanding the big picture throughout the incident)
- Communication (making sure everyone on the fireground is capable of understanding the big picture and related conditions)
- The importance of mutual aid coordination to ensure that if you run with mutual aid companies, all responding companies should have common polices, procedures and training so that when on the scene, they genuinely operate off of "one sheet of music."
As learned in most close calls, the operational basics - including standard operating procedures (SOPs) - must be known and followed and, when in doubt, think hard before risking firefighters when there are clear indications that there are no rescues or life hazard. For those reading this who have the potential to be in "command," never forget that your first responsibility is the safety and survival of your members. While, at times, you may very well have to place your members in extreme risk, your initial and ongoing size-up and risk assessment is critical to the most successful outcome possible. Clearly, not "everyone" goes home, but much can be done to make sure we command the incident to the best of our abilities based on conditions and life hazard.
In this incident, you will note some "repeat warnings" seen at many other close calls and in many line-of-duty deaths that we can, again, all learn from. Be it in this fire or any others involving a commercial building, we must continue to study and understand that we cannot use a single-family-dwelling mindset and tactics when operating. And while the firefighters on this run had the best of intentions, this could have ended in a horrifically tragic outcome, where the discussion might have then been the all-too-common question: What did they die for?
Naturally, we all want to do our best to save life and property - but always remember that there is a huge, huge difference in the two and specifically what we are and should ever be willing to die for. We should not be willing to die to for "stuff" in a building, while we are willing to die for potentially savable victims. Remember the difference.
At approximately 5 P.M. the same day, Chief Walter White of the Sacramento Metro Fire District Training/Safety Division contacted the on-duty safety officer and requested that a formal investigation be conducted into the incident. The on-duty safety officer, Captain Scott Clough, organized an investigation team consisting of Captain Mike Teague, investigation coordinator; Clough as lead investigator, and Battalion Chief Kyle Johnson, assistant investigator. The incident scene was photographed by Clough. Metro Fire investigators excavated the site and recovered the tools used by Truck 10. Diagrams and inspection records were gathered from Metro Fire's Fire Prevention Bureau.
Interviews were conducted with Battalion Chiefs 4 and 2 and all members of Truck 10 that evening. An interview was conducted with the first-arriving company officer the following morning. Interviews were conducted with the remaining crews of the first-alarm assignment over the next four shifts. Fifteen crew members were interviewed. Some members were not available for interviews as they were deployed on other assignments out of the county. The interviews consisted of a standard set of questions. Responses were recorded by handwritten notes.