To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
Union Fire Company 1 (Berks County Company 61) of Hamburg, PA, protects roughly 15,000 people in Hamburg Borough and surrounding areas. The company operates three engines, a brush truck, a heavy rescue and a 100-foot quint aerial truck, and is staffed by approximately 60 volunteer firefighters. The photos in this column were taken by Virginville Fire Company Captain Chris Skipper after overhaul was performed on the day of the fire and we appreciate his assistance. Our sincere thanks also go out to Union Chief Troy R. Hatt, Firefighter Matt Lutz, Fire Lieutenant Jarrod Emes, and the members of the Union Fire Company, Shartlesville Company 41 and Centerport Company 38 for their assistance and cooperation in this month's "close call."
The following account is by Firefighter Matt Lutz:
I was inside the house with another firefighter, Rich Weidner, from Hamburg (Company 61) and other crews. We encountered thick smoke and intense heat. I held onto and followed a hoseline that was already inside the house when I came upon another firefighter who, when I bumped into him, grabbed my helmet shield and yelled through his mask, "There's a large hole in the floor to your right that burned through, don't go over there and stay right here so any other crews coming in won't fall in the hole."
I did as ordered and stayed to the side of the hoseline and held on tight to it so not to lose my bearings. The house was filled with thick smoke and I was unable to even see where I had just moments ago come in. I guarded the hole in the floor even though I wasn't able to see it. While sitting there, guarding my position to protect other firefighters who would be entering, I stretched my leg out and found where there was no floor. At that point, two firefighters crawled in and bumped into me. I grabbed the first guy's shield and yelled, "Stay to the left of the hoseline, the floor is gone to my right, do you understand?" And they yelled back, "Yeah, we got it, thanks."
I stayed as more hose was being pulled in to fight the fire, which was in the one wall and had extended out the roof and walls. While I was there, off and on, I could see the orange and red glow of flames. Fire had been shooting out the front and back windows and I knew it was through the roof; I could feel the intense heat come over me like a wall and I knew it was close.
Rich came in and I yelled to him, "Stay right here, don't go to my right side, the floor is gone." He asked, "It's gone?" And I said, "Yes! It is burned through. Stay to the left of the hoseline." Rich then asked me, "Is this Lutz?" I said yes and he said OK. I again said, "Hey you understand? Stay to the..."
Just that quickly, the floor caved in under me and I dropped through the floor. My airmask and helmet caught on the flooring during my fall! My mask lifted up, breaking my seal, and I heard the air rushing out of my facemask and the smoke rushing in! I still was hanging onto the hoseline with both hands.
While I hung there, not being able to feel anything but emptiness below my feet, Rich had a death grip on my left shoulder. Rich was yelling at the top of his lungs, "Man down, man down!" over and over; "I need help, firefighter down, firefighter down, floor cave-in, floor cave-in, help me!". At the same time, I tried yelling, since my face was partially exposed from my airmask, but the smoke gagged me as I tried to keep my breath, and I just hung on. At some point, I heard the calls go out over the radio - "We have a firefighter through the floor, floor caved in. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday."