The Hazards of Electricity

While this column was being written, the pagers beeped and the e-mail opened up with a notification of a fire captain in Los Angeles suffering a severe electrical shock. As in most "close calls" that we report, and you read about, I am sure we all...


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Chief 5-10's initial size-up found a two-car garage with an apartment above had fire on side 2 and that the sheds on the adjoining property were fully involved. The sheds and the garage/apartment were separated by about eight feet. The fire on the garage/apartment was extending up side 2 and entering the cockloft through the eaves.

Chief 5-10 gave Engine 5-10-2 the initial assignment to lay a supply line from the hydrant at Shenk Avenue; this was actually two hydrants prior to the scene, but happens to be the best hydrant in the borough because it has a 12-inch main. Unfortunately, the order was not received because Engine 5-10-2 had not changed frequencies. This caused confusion as to where Engine 5-10-2 was to position. Engine 5-10-2 then took a defensive parking position just west of the fire building and advanced a 2.5-inch and a 1.5-inch attack line to sides 2 and 3 of the garage/apartment.

Our SOPs call for the first-due engine to lay a supply line from the closest hydrant to the fire. The next-due piece is to pick up the hydrant and supply the line. Chief 5-10 was concerned that if the fire broke through the roof of the garage/apartment, the proximity of a house to the garage/apartment presented a large exposure problem on side 4. This was his reasoning for requesting the alternate hydrant. Interestingly, in their non-hydranted areas, they lay out as well with the knowledge that the tanker task force is on the way and will supply the water.

I arrived on scene and assumed "command 5-10" and requested Chief 5-10 to take operations as he was in the best position to do that at the time. Tanker 5-10 arrived directly behind me. I recognized that the line was not laid as Chief 5-10 had requested, so I ordered Tanker 5-10 to advance and supply Engine 5-10-2.

Engine 5-10-1 arrived on scene and was assigned to lay the supply line. Engine 4-8-2 arrived shortly thereafter, finished the lay and picked up the hydrant. Operations had requested two additional engines from Station 4-7 to enter the scene from the east end of the borough. About eight minutes after the dispatch, I asked communications to upgrade the assignment to a second alarm. The second alarm added eight tankers, two engines, a truck, a rescue and an air unit. Our second alarm serves two purposes. It brings a tanker task force that gives us a total of 10 tankers and two additional engines for draft-site engines. It also adds a truck, rescue and air unit to the call. While our borough has a municipal water supply and hydrants, we use the tankers to establish our second water supply from a pond on the west end of the borough.

It was at about nine minutes into the call that Chief 5-10 called: "Command from Operations Chief 5-10, get me a medic for an electrocution." I immediately contacted communications with a "priority message" and requested a medic for an electrocution. Our county uses the term "priority message" to alert everyone to stop all radio traffic because a high-priority message needs to be broadcast.

I did not know what had taken place. I had set up the command post about 300 feet west of the fire building in the parking lot of a church. It was not until later that I learned that it was one of our firefighters.

As the initial attack crew was advancing a line down the driveway, a triplex power line burned off of the garage at the service entrance and fell, lodging between the cylinder and back of a firefighter and instantly began to burn in a shower of sparks. His partner stood there and could do nothing. He later commented how powerless he felt knowing that he could not grab the wire or the trapped firefighter without risking electrocuting himself.

For what seemed like minutes, the firefighter walked around the driveway trying to get the wire off of his back. Finally, it dislodged and he walked away. He was immediately escorted to a waiting ambulance, where he was treated, and eventually transported to a local hospital for evaluation. He was treated and released later that night and was back at the firehouse before we had finished cleaning up and getting back into service.

This is as close as we have ever come to losing a brother on the fireground and we never want to go there again.