"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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* Structural conditions during the fire. I recently was looking at efforts by the National Association of Home Builders in orchestrating a major campaign against firefighters and the fire service. Its plan is to defeat the need for fire sprinkler systems in residential structures. The association even created a residential sprinkler action kit - which has been interpreted as an "anti-firefighter" tool - to help its members oppose mandatory fire sprinklers. How about that? My point here is that when we look at current residential building construction designs, we are seeing more lightweight construction, glues replacing metal and overall "cost effective" (read: more dangerous to firefighters!) construction. These buildings are questionable before a fire. What about during a fire? Just look at the construction sites in your first-due area. We must become aware of building construction and the fact that so many structures fail quickly during a fire, sometimes even before we arrive!

* Warning signs. The fire breaking through the floor was a clear warning and the risk vs. benefit of firefighters operating interior is applicable. A hole in the floor doesn't mean the building will collapse or that all interior operations should be abandoned, but it might. Communicating interior conditions to the incident commander lets the chief decide.

* Sounding the floor. These firefighters knew to sound the floor as they were advancing in. A good reminder to all of us that tools and thermal imaging cameras are essential when going interior. Don't leave the tools on the apparatus.

* Operating with a partner. This is critical and while in some very rare cases separation may be required, every effort should be made for firefighters to work as a team, using a simple accountability system, with a partner so that no one operates alone. In the case of departments that do not have adequate staffing, get more help automatically on your first alarm (as they do in Hamburg) and when you have smoke/fire showing, get more help on the road immediately. Get lots of help, and then when the incident is fully under control, send them home.

The issues of staffing: Think of the tasks that must be performed: water supply, venting, forced entry, search, rescue, stretching attack lines, command, safety (and much more depending on the fire). Think of pro football. There are the players on the field, playing in the game. There are the coaches on the sidelines who run the game and determine the strategy and tactics to win the game. And then there are the players on the bench - resources ready to go to work as needed. There are lots of players on the bench. How many players do you have on the bench at your fires?

Training kicks in. One point that really stuck in my head and I hope yours too was the fact that Firefighter Lutz held onto the hoseline. Forget the debate that some of you will have about him being in there; the fact is that he was, but he held onto that line. His training kicked in. Training firefighters on basic life-saving skills (staying low, wearing all your protective gear, no exposed skin, bringing in the tools, working with a partner, holding onto your line, etc.) can make the difference in getting home.

Firefighter rescue. In this case, the department did not have a rapid intervention team in place and that's a lesson learned for all of us. Firefighters were available to "muster" and they did help in the removal, but a dedicated rapid intervention team can make it much easier.

Many fire departments won't have a rapid intervention team dispatched until it looks like there may be a need. Anytime we are operating at a fire (or other situation) where one of our own can become trapped, a rapid intervention team should be in place. Many fire departments have a qualified and trained (not every fire department is a rapid intervention team; firefighters must be trained and qualified) rapid intervention team responding on the first alarm for firefighter rescue. However, in this case, the department did have available firefighters arriving or on the scene to assist Lieutenant Emes with the removal of Firefighter Lutz. And training on firefighter rescue by Lieutenant Emes paid off.

Thankfully, this firefighter is well on the way to recovery and this "close call" was just that, a close call. By studying fires such as this, the issues of building construction, staffing, risk vs. benefit, fire attack and firefighter rescue become much more real and point out the critical need for all of us to continue a strong focus on firefighting tactics.


WILLIAM GOLDFEDER, EFO, a Firehouse contributing editor, is a 32-year veteran of the fire service. He is a deputy chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982, has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety and survival website www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. Goldfeder may be contacted at BillyG@FirefighterCloseCalls.com.