Fire Chief Makes The Right Call in Ohio

Pick up any issue of Firehouse Magazine or look at Firehouse.com and it's clear that there has never been a time when there has been so intense and coordinated a focus on firefighter training. This month's column describes an incident in which basic...


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Pick up any issue of Firehouse Magazine or look at Firehouse.com and it's clear that there has never been a time when there has been so intense and coordinated a focus on firefighter training. This month's column describes an incident in which basic training and fire command experience led to quick decisions that assured firefighter safety and survival.

The idea that "everyone goes home" is clear in the fire profiled this month. We look at a close call that wasn't dramatic, nothing "suddenly happened" or "nearly occurred," nothing "blew up" and no one was injured, but this close call could have had a tragic outcome. Because these firefighters and officers were prepared, however, once again we see how training paid off and everyone went home. And nearly every reader of this column can and probably will have "this" fire.

The Wayne Township Fire Department (locally known as Station 91) in Warren County, OH, is a volunteer department of 40-plus members led by a full-time fire chief (28 of those firefighters responded to this alarm). Equipment consists of three engines, a rescue, two tankers, and several brush trucks and EMS ambulances. The department operates in a suburban/rural area between Cincinnati and Dayton. As of late September, it answered 200 fire calls and 621 EMS calls.

Our sincere appreciation goes to the officers and members of the Wayne Township Fire Department for their assistance in this month's column.

At 9:15 A.M. on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2005, the Wayne Township Fire Department and the balance of its first-alarm assignment, including the nearby Massie Township Fire Department, were dispatched by the Warren County Communications Center to a reported fire at a McDonald's restaurant on Main Street. (The Wayne Township Fire department also protects the historic Village of Waynesville, a popular tourist area known for antiques stores and related businesses. The restaurant is in the heart of the Village of Waynesville business district.)

Upon arrival at 9:18, Chief of Department Paul Scherer (Chief 91) established command. Following his size-up, he reported heavy smoke conditions with the building occupants self-evacuating. High-velocity, thick, dark-brown smoke was "pushing" primarily out of the side B roof and cockloft area. The first-in engine company, Engine 91, arrived at 9:19. The crew members immediately stretched in and conducted a search with their thermal imager. Between the imager and direct observation they found heavy fire conditions in the cockloft area above the ceiling, just below the roof. (It should be noted that this is a lightweight wood-truss building with no sprinkler protection.)

Command ordered additional alarm assignments, including a truck company from Clearcreek Township and a tanker task force, to supplement to limited village water supply. The first-alarm crews attempted a knockdown with several handlines, but the volume of fire was too heavy. Based on that report, the fire and smoke conditions, and the construction of the building, the chief ordered all personnel out of the building and an exterior attack was initiated. At this point, greater-alarm companies (primarily for water supply) were responding from Turtlecreek, Salem-Morrow, Union/South Lebanon and Hamilton townships, all in Warren County.

While the restaurant is an important part of the Waynesville business community, Scherer determined the risk versus benefit of his firefighters operating inside. His decision was proven when, minutes later, the trusses weakened, the gusset plates popped and a collapse occurred. This was a completely predictable event, and due to the crews training and knowledge of the building, as well as the experience and training of the fire officers, there was not a single firefighter injury.

As discussed in, and quoting from, several National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) firefighter fatality reports, fast-food restaurants are known to incorporate trusses as a roof support system, as seen at this fire. This fast-food restaurant, like most, was designed to have large open spaces for dining. The truss system is designed to allow for large open areas.

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