Mobile Home Fire…And An Emergency Bailout!

Fires involving mobile homes present special challenges. Our sincere thanks to Firefighter Tracy Davis, Training Officer Brandon Flynn, Chief John Childs, EFO, Chief of Operations Steve Kovalcik, and the officers and members of the Sterling Heights, MI...


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Engine 5 crew removed their helmets, SCBA, Nomex hoods and gloves. Lieutenant Norris and Firefighter Ioco had no noticeable injuries. Firefighter Davis felt soreness to her ears. Inspection shows some redness to both earlobes.

Firefighter Davis later stated to Engine 5 officer that sudden exit was due to an SCBA malfunction. She stated that suddenly, while breathing normally, her mask "sucked" to her face. She again attempted to inhale, with the same results. Firefighter Davis held breath and kept mask and regulator on during rapid exit. She stated that she did not take off her mask or remove regulator until she was out of the dwelling. (Firefighter Davis took SCBA out of service for further evaluation.) Firefighter Davis later sought treatment for second-degree burns to both earlobes as blisters appeared approximately two hours after original incident. She was also evaluated for possible smoke inhalation/ respiratory burns, but no respiratory problems were found at that time during exam.

This account is from Captain Brandon Flynn:

On Oct. 29, 2006, at 4 A.M., Sterling Heights Engine 5 responded to a reported mobile home fire. Upon arrival, the crew of four found about 50% involvement of the trailer with a car in the driveway. The officer and both firefighters deployed a pre-connect and entered the side door near the center of the trailer, while the driver established a water supply. Upon entering the trailer, Engine 5's crew encountered heavy fire and smoke in the kitchen. Other units arrived and vented the trailer by breaking out windows. The fire seemed to intensify after ventilation, which prompted the Engine 5 crew to evacuate.

Just prior to the fire flaring up (unconfirmed flashover), one firefighter lost air to her SCBA facepiece. We think her bottle valve accidentally shut off while fighting the fire; however, she had no low-pressure alarm and the heads-up display went from all green to red. Luckily, she was still close to the door to bail out. We found that the ratchet mechanism on the bottle valve had been disabled. Further investigation revealed that all of our new bottles had the safety ratchet disabled. In summary, check your airpacks. In this fire, we lost two sets of gear, two helmets, one length of hose, one nozzle, two air bottles, and one airpack from heat and flame damage. The firefighter who lost air was off for one week with burnt ears, everyone else is OK and no one was in the trailer at the time of the fire.

Problem determination with the manufacturer of the SCBA:

We worked with the manufacturer and recently received the report back from Scott Health & Safety about the SCBA. The SCBA checked out with no problems. We have come to the conclusion through our own internal investigation that her tank valve was accidentally shut during firefighting because the safety ratchet was disabled. It was disabled in the past during maintenance for undocumented reasons. The safety ratchet is designed to prevent the valve from closing accidentally. We found 75% of our bottles in that condition at the time of this fire. We strongly recommend to all fire departments to have their safety ratchets enabled. This was not a problem or fault of the manufacturer.

The small area of the entrance to a singlewide mobile home posed a problem with three firefighters, hand tools and a 1¾-inch line. We believe, while advancing the hoseline under Tracy's right arm, the hoseline was rubbing against her tank valve, causing it to close (with no safety ratchet engaged). The second complication to this incident was the sudden influx of heat and fire. We are not sure if this was a flashover or from ventilation taking place; however, Tracy's coat, helmet and hood had to be replaced.

Our lessons learned:

  1. Wear all of your personal protective equipment (PPE). It works, and it's our policy. This year, we are replacing a coat, helmet, hood, SCBA, a length of hose and a nozzle...not a firefighter.
  2. Know your equipment and check it daily. We had no idea all of our main-valve safety ratchets were disabled.
  3. Training is priceless. Tracy kept her cool when she lost air. If she had ripped off her mask in a panic, the aftermath would have been grave.