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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This was a situation that I personally never encountered before and I hope to never experience it again. Our crew followed all procedures properly and made a systematic entry into the basement. Accountability of everyone who made entry took place, we made sure all areas were stable before making entry and continued to monitor the area for any changes, and we all stayed together, yet one of our own still got hurt. We have all trained in the removal of an injured firefighter, but I never thought I would be using that training at an actual incident.

The afterthoughts of this incident proved to me that the training we undergo becomes our second nature and pure instinct. Nowhere in any of this did I think about what I was going to do next. I am a firm believer in training and camaraderie, and in this situation the training paid off and we were all there for each other during the incident and after. The actions of EMS Command, Dave Stemler, updating our crew of Kevin's condition helped us to relieve the tension of the situation. Our commissioner, John Schach, who made it possible for the crew to see Kevin before he was transferred to Lehigh Valley allowed some closure to the incident. I know that after seeing and talking to Kevin, I knew things would be all right.

The use of PPE and SCBA and training played the most important role in this situation. This incident could have been a lot worse than it turned out to be if any one of these were not used.

These comments are based on Chief Goldfeder's observations and communications with the writers and others regarding this close call:

This emergency once again — and very clearly — reinforces how it is necessary to wear proper PPE and SCBA, as well as to be able to track your personnel, which all took place at this incident. There are three critical components to ensure the success of getting everyone to wear their equipment and use it as it was designed:

  • Training — initial and ongoing
  • Self discipline — just shut up and wear it
  • Enforcement — Officers must ensure that firefighters are taking care of themselves, even when they may not want to.

In talking with some of those involved, they stated that after the critique and seeing the pictures that were taken after the incident was over and seeing the size of the pit that the steam lines were in that opened up after the metal plates were blown off, they were very lucky the entire crew did not get burned. Clearly, the situation could have been a lot worse. Note also that they had a pre-plan for this building. How many of the buildings in your first-due area are pre-planned? Do all companies due on the run know the plan? Has it been drilled?

In this incident, the firefighters were attempting the rescue of a trapped civilian. That is one of the rare occasions when we must risk our lives in a justifiable manner based on size-up, reports and conditions; that's what we do — and no one else is able or expected to do that. Sometimes, we must take risks when there is a chance to save a life. In situations in which we get hurt or killed when there was no life to save, the risk obviously is not worth it. In this case, the members of the Township of Spring Volunteer Fire Department and their neighboring companies made the right decision.

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.