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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As we got to the bottom of the stairs, we encountered three to six inches of hot water running out the basement door that could be felt through our leather boots. The crew from Company 79 met us at the bottom of the stairs all wearing full PPE and SCBA. We all masked up and started to make entry into the basement. As we were making entry, steam from the water was fogging our masks, making visibility poor at times. As we were proceeding into the room, Firefighter Rhoads was sounding the floor while keeping in contact with the wall. The doorway entrance for an office was found. Rhoads found metal panels resting against the door and he moved them out of the way. He told me there was a dropoff in the area next to the door and I reported it to everyone else in the room. The office door we found was locked and Rhoads asked me if we should force it. I gave him the OK to do it. Rhoads and Firefighter Yeager proceeded to force entry into the locked room.

As they were forcing entry, I moved around the back side of them to provide light and give them more room to work. As I stepped back, I stepped into a dropoff that was filled with scalding hot water. As I went down, my right boot filled with scalding hot water and I caught myself with my right hand, causing a burn to my right wrist. I then screamed, "My leg, I'm burning." I remember being grabbed by Rhoads by the arm and SCBA strap and then by Yeager and being placed on a metal cart that was nearby. I was moved to the stairway. EMS was waiting at the top of the stairs. I was transported by Western Berks EMS a short distance to the Reading Hospital Trauma Center, where I was treated and stabilized for transfer to the Lehigh Valley Hospital Burn Unit. I sustained second-degree burns on my right wrist and on my right leg from below my knee to my ankle. It was later found that the burns to my right ankle were third degree, which required a skin graft. I feel that everyone's good training and proper use of PPE helped save me from further injury.

This account is by Firefighter Justin Rhoads:

Engine 852 arrived and staged in the alley area between Building B and the Spruce Pavilion. All four personnel reported to Truck 79 in full PPE and SCBA. Firefighters from Company 79 were attempting to make entry through a basement window. Firefighter Ohlinger notified that Engine 852 crew would be attempting entry to the basement level via the stairs.

At the bottom of the stairway, crews encountered about five to six inches of warm/hot water. Before making entry, all personnel donned facemasks and were on air. Angstadt and I sounded out the floor and made entry into the lower-level entrance followed by the remaining crew. Water was two to three inches deep throughout the room; steam was covering our facemasks with little to no visibility. Angstadt and I sounded out the remaining area of the floor while keeping in contact with the wall. All areas found to be stable and crew made entry into the area. Yeager and I found the door that led to the office. Heavy metal panels were lying across the door. I removed one of the metal panels and moved it toward the right of the doorway. The panel fell into a large void space that was filled with water. I sounded the area to the right and found what seemed to be a stairway consisting of three to four stairs. When sliding an axe across the stairway, I found that a dropoff that was approximately three to four feet deep from the landing we were standing on. I advised all crewmembers in the area of the drop off and items in the room started to be moved and stacked in that area to be sure no one fell.

Deputy Chief Mike Roth entered the basement level along with Firefighter Dennis Walton and Firefighter Dean Yeager. Walton attached a search rope to the exterior of the building when he made entry. Angstadt ordered Jeremy Yeager and me to force the office door. While trying to gain entry, Angstadt walked behind us to provide light to the doorjamb area. As he stepped back, he fell into the void space and screamed, "Ahhhhh…I'm burning, I'm burning." I reached out and grabbed the left SCBA strap and his arm and assisted him to the floor level. I screamed to everyone in the room, "Mayday, Kevin went down; He needs out now." Deputy Chief Roth attempted transmission over the radio, along with others in the basement without success. One of the members screamed up the stairway to Ohlinger, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, we have one guy down." Walton, Jeremy Yeager, and I pulled Angstadt toward the door. At this point, Dean Yeager and Stoudt grabbed onto him. Walton, Dean Yeager and I then carried him up the entry stairs and placed him at the top landing.

Jeremy Yeager and I removed our facemasks and started pulling Angstadt's PPE and SCBA off of him. EMS was now preparing the litter next to him. Angstadt started screaming "My arm, my leg…". He had burns to the right leg from his knee to his foot and to his right wrist. Lt. Angstadt lifted by all personnel around him onto the litter. EMS packaged and transported him to Reading Hospital's Trauma Unit.