"I Fell Through the Floor And Was Burning"

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...


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After operating interior, I needed to refill my cylinder. As I exited the building, I ran into Firefighter Matt Lutz and advised him to stay on the hoseline to warn other firefighters to stay to the left in the event that the floor was soft in that direction. Firefighter Lutz took a position at the corner of the room and was checking the area to make sure it was sound while he was advising all other firefighters to keep sounding the floor around him. The conditions at this time were still very smoky and the smoke had been banking down around the firefighters where you could not see anything. I had passed another firefighter, Rich Weidner, as I was exiting the building. I advised him that he would find Matt interior, and to listen to what he had to say and to be careful of the floor. I exited the building and I gave a report to command that spot fires were popping up inside the building.

A few minutes after my report, a muffled noise came over our radio, and then a clear, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Firefighter down and in the basement" was heard. Chief Hatt and I immediately made our way to the back of the home, as I ran into the basement the chief yelled, "Jarrod, find him and get him out." About halfway into the home (about approximately 25 to 30 feet into the basement), I found Firefighter Lutz lying belly up on a debris pile. I worked my way to Matt, untangling his feet from wire and other debris, and pulled him from the pile. I dropped him about two feet onto the floor, where I was able to yell at him, but he did not respond.

I loosened the shoulder straps from his airpack and pulled him free, but Matt was not moving. I tried to connect the waist straps from his SCBA around his leg to make a grab harness in order to pull him out of the building; however, I was unable to do this. I decided that I could drag him out of the building using his pack straps. Chief Hatt ordered Aerial 61 to contact the Berks Communications Center and advise the dispatcher that a firefighter had been hurt, that a "Mayday" was issued, that the evacuation tones should be hit and that an evacuation of the building had taken place.

Due to the radio system, the aerial truck radio is more effective in reaching the dispatcher than portable radios. Chief Hatt and I began stripping Matt of his gear. After I removed the SCBA mask from Matt, Chief Hatt yelled his name and he began to respond, but we could tell something was still very wrong. From the time the Mayday was transmitted until Matt had been extricated was several minutes. Suppression efforts took place and the fire was then placed under control.

The following are factors as noted by Lieutenant Emes:

* After the Mayday, command advised all departments of conditions and safety zones were laid out throughout the home.

* Chief Hatt contacted Chief Ronnie Wentzel of the Sinking Spring Fire De (a Pennsylvania fire instructor), who assisted with making the proper notifications. He also assisted with providing contacts for counseling and debriefing teams and assisted with debriefing members who were involved in the incident. Chief Wentzel had a similar situation occur to him in a fire that was featured in Chief Goldfeder's Close Calls column. Chief Wentzel also contacted State Fire Commissioner Ed Mann's office for notification purposes.

* Due to time of day, weather conditions and the extent of the fire, appropriate staging/standby companies were brought in to handle other calls involving weather conditions. Out-of-county departments brought in to stand by and cover calls.

* Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal Mike Yeity was notified of the injury as well as Chief Hatt, who is the fire marshal for the area. Both investigated the incident and determined that the fire was accidental and originated in the wood stove.

* As crews broke down handlines, many 1½-inch and five-inch lines froze and had to be taken back to our station to defrost before being reloaded.

* Voids were found in the attic, and this caused the fire to spread through the home. At one point, two roofs were found on the building, creating extreme difficulties when crews began to vent the building.

* Fast action by personnel was taken when the Mayday was transmitted due to prior training.

The following account is by Fire Chief/Marshal Troy R. Hatt:

We were dispatched for a wood stove burning and a possible structure fire. This fire was reported at 12:02 P.M., the temperature was 28 degrees and 15 firefighters responded as a part of the first-alarm assignment. Our fire police captain got on location and stated it was a working fire with flames through the roof and out the front windows. I got on scene and confirmed that it was a working fire. The flames were out the roof and side A was fully involved from a mud room toward side D. The first engine and aerial on scene set up to attack and crews started the extinguishment. The other apparatus set up for water supply and laid a supply line to the creek at Fisher Dam Road and Berne Road. The crews were making good progress.