Working House Fire: We Knew The Warning Signs, So Why Did We Do That?

While there are numerous interesting tactical considerations with this close call, the focus that the writer provides - and this is easily understood when you read this - is to manage your "confidence" at a fire while applying your size-up information...


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While there are numerous interesting tactical considerations with this close call, the focus that the writer provides - and this is easily understood when you read this - is to manage your "confidence" at a fire while applying your size-up information based on your training. Think about what you are doing and why you are doing it, communicate what you see to the incident commander and use caution.

This close call occurred in rural Henry Township, IN. The house involved is one of about 10 in the district of this type of construction. The Henry Township Fire Department is a small volunteer department with 22 members that covers about 100 square miles of mostly farmland. The members of the department answer about 60 fire calls per year, including accidents, grass fires and carbon monoxide checks, plus another 100 EMS alarms.

At approximately 3:30 A.M. on Nov. 23, 2006, the Henry Township Fire Department, with three engines, a rescue, two tankers (3,000 and 2,000 gallons) and two brush trucks, was dispatched to a chimney fire that had spread to the rest of the house. The acting fire chief (the chief of department was on personal leave due to a family tragedy and the assistant chief was in the acting capacity) saw a glow in the sky about two miles away. He immediately called for mutual aid and advised all personnel that the fire was through the roof. The structure was a new, two-story lightweight constructed house with a full basement and approximately 3,000 square feet per floor.

Our sincere thanks to Firefighter Brooke Murphy, Firefighter Justin Gearhart, Acting Chief Marty Gearhart and all members of the Henry Township Fire Department for their cooperation.

The following account is by Firefighter Brooke Murphy:

We responded with four pieces of apparatus with seven personnel plus a tanker on automatic mutual aid from the City of Rochester Fire Department, which responded with five members and a tanker. Our first-in engine arrived with an engineer and three firefighters on board. Of the three firefighters, one had nine years' experience, and the other two had just finished Firefighter 1 and 2 class in June and had about two years' experience. The acting chief assumed command and requested water tankers and manpower from two neighboring departments. I arrived next in my personal vehicle and geared up. The Roann and Pleasant Township fire departments responded, bringing us 15 firefighters and two tankers.

As I was donning my SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), I observed the A side of the structure and fire coming from the D-side gable end and rapidly progressing through the attic toward the B-side gable end. I noticed fire coming from a ridge vent almost half the distance of the roofline. There was a 35-foot ground ladder placed on the A side to a small porch roof just beneath the second-floor windows. One firefighter was at the A side front porch with SCBA on and had already advanced a 1¾-inch attack line to the door. Two other firefighters went to the C side of the structure. I made contact with the homeowner in the front yard and he advised me that everyone was out of the house.

The incident commander came to me and told me and another firefighter to advance to the second floor and "do what you can to stop this thing." As we made entry with a 1¾-inch line, the visibility was perfect on the first floor and the stairway was just inside the front door. This house had a vaulted-type "open concept" living room with the ceiling stopping at the attic floor and stairway.

As we advanced up the stairway, there was a medium haze of smoke in the second floor. Visibility was still very good, but enough smoke was present to burn our eyes, so we plugged in our regulators at the top of the stairway. We encountered a hallway at the top of the stairs leading to the B-D sides of the house. We went to the left, the D side, into a bedroom that measured about 13 by 13 feet. We put our short pike pole through the drywall ceiling and made a two-inch-diameter hole.

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