Fire Officer Trapped At Burst Steam Pipe Emergency

Before we get to this month's Close Call, a word of appreciation and cautious optimism: We (along with 7,000 other firefighters and firefighter families) attended the 26th annual National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend last month in...


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For this month's column, we appreciate the assistance of Assistant Chief Kevin Quinter and Firefighter Linwood (Woody) Ohlinger of the Wyomissing Fire Department; Firefighter Dennis Walton of the Wyomissing Fire Department and the Township of Spring Volunteer Fire Department; Deputy Fire Chief Michael P. Roth, Lieutenant Kevin Angstadt, Firefighter Justin Rhoads and Firefighter Jeremy Yeager of the Township of Spring Volunteer Fire Department; First Assistant Fire Chief Richard S. Quattrock of the West Reading Fire Company, and the nursing staff and doctors of Reading Hospital and the Lehigh Valley Hospital Burn Unit.

This account is by First Assistant Chief Richard S. Quattrock of the West Reading Fire Company:

On July 5, 2007, at 7:21 A.M., the West Reading Fire Company was dispatched to Building G of Reading Hospital for a 911 call reporting smoke in the building, for a possible structure fire, along with mutual aid assistance from the Wyomissing, Kenhorst, Greenfields and Spring Township fire departments. As this incident was being dispatched, a second 911 call was received from Jim Bitler, Reading Hospital's maintenance manager, reporting that a steam line had burst and assistance would be needed from the fire department for extensive ventilation.

As the first-responding chief officer of the West Reading Fire Company, I signed on air as 64-11 with Berks County dispatch. Upon my arrival on scene, Bitler met me at the roadway entrance of Building G and gave me a report. I notified dispatch of the possibility of entrapment and injuries. Bitler also informed me the main steam line for the hospital had ruptured. I was informed that there were people still trapped within the facility and some burn victims.

I assumed command at side A of the building, which faces 5th Avenue, and called dispatch for three EMS units to respond to tend to victims. I also instructed incoming units to report directly to Building G instead of going to their pre-plan positions. The first units to arrive at the scene were Truck 64 (West Reading), Truck 79 (Wyomissing) and Engine 85-2 (Spring Township). As Truck 79 arrived on side C, hospital personnel reported to Career Firefighter/Driver Linwood Ohlinger that the hospital's photographer was still inside the lower level of Building G and thought to be in the photo studio (it was later learned that he had exited the building on his own and was not injured). I was informed that crews from all three apparatus were attempting to enter the building and search for victims. West Reading Police Officer Thomas Hahn told me that one person (the plumber) was taken to the hospital's emergency room, prior to the arrival of the fire department, by hospital security. (It was later learned that the plumber had exited the building via a below-grade bathroom window after bystanders lowered a ladder to him.)

A command post was set up on side A and Wyomissing Fire Commissioner Bruce Longenecker secured building plans for our use. A crew from Engine 85-2 entered from side C while crews from Truck 64 entered from side D. I was notified that interior crews were experiencing extremely high temperatures in the basement from the ruptured steam line. I received a report from Truck 64's crew that the members had retreated from the interior search due to the high temperatures. At this same time, the crew from Truck 79 was attempting to take out the exterior windows in the photo lab to make entry and looking for the missing photographer.

About 30 minutes into the incident, a Mayday was radioed to the command post, stating a firefighter had been burned and was being brought out. Later, I was informed by Western Berks EMS Paramedic/Supervisor Dave Stemler that the injured firefighter was Spring Township Volunteer Lieutenant Kevin Angstadt, who was being transported to the hospital's emergency room for treatment of burns to his right leg and wrist.

I pulled all personnel participating in the search efforts out of the building and an aggressive ventilation effort of Building G was initiated. I notified County Communications to dispatch Shillington Fire Company (Station 67) to the scene to assist with rapid intervention team duties along with Station 85's rehab unit. I felt these units were important to have on scene knowing that when interior temperatures were reduced, interior search efforts would resume. Usually a rapid intervention team is automatically sent on all working fire assignments, but since this was not a working fire it had to be special called.