Floor Collapse: Firefighter Trapped!

A few months ago, I was at a serious fire in an industrial building observing the fire operations. As the fire department started its attack with several 1¾-inch handlines, one firefighter yelled to an assortment of white-hatted officers, "Why are we...


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A few months ago, I was at a serious fire in an industrial building observing the fire operations. As the fire department started its attack with several 1¾-inch handlines, one firefighter yelled to an assortment of white-hatted officers, "Why are we using inch-and-three-quarter handlines? This isn't a house fire!" The officers knew exactly what he meant. The fire required heavy water application, nothing that a 1¾-inch line can deliver.

"Put water on the fire." How many times have we heard about that? How many times must the Dunns, Brannigans, Brennans or Murtaghs remind us that the water must far exceed the fire, and that we have to get water on that fire quickly? What are the ingredients for that? Staffing and large lines — sometimes, larger-caliber non-handlines such as master streams in the form of deck guns, ladder pipes or tower ladders. We have to be able to get water on the fire, but so often we have difficulty doing that.

Why did the fire department in the above industrial fire pull 1¾-inch lines? Because that's what those firefighters always do — and that's because they almost always go to dwelling fires! It's habit forming, and in most cases, the 1¾-inch handline is the right line for dwellings. It flows the right amount of water and is maneuvered easily. The water-delivery ability of that line (150 to 200 gpm) is generally what is right for the standard dwelling fire, but, generally it is not right for anything larger, especially commercial and industrial fires. And that is where pre-planning comes in. Knowing "the enemy" (thanks Frank!) before you have to do battle can make all the difference.

In this month's incident, the firefighters of Cumberland, MD, demonstrate numerous positive ways a fire department should operate. They also teach us what they learned from a close call. Our sincere thanks go out to Cumberland Fire Chief William Herbaugh, Lieutenant Barry Winters, the officers and members of the Cumberland Fire Department and the mutual aid departments that operated at this fire.

The Cumberland Fire Department is a career department with 65 members consisting of one fire chief, one administrative assistant, five deputy chiefs, three captains, nine lieutenants, 18 equipment operators and 28 firefighters. Personnel are cross-trained for fire-rescue and emergency medical services. The CFD is currently staffed with 48 emergency medical technicians and 15 paramedics. Companies respond out of three stations with five engines, one truck, one rescue, one command unit and four advanced life support (ALS) ambulances. The department operates with three duty crews on a 24-/48-hour schedule, 8 A.M. to 8 A.M., 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The following account is by Lieutenant Barry Winters of the Cumberland Fire Department:

On May 28, 2006, I was personally involved in terrifying close call. I responded at shift change (approximately 7:30 A.M.) to a structure fire in one of our business districts. The structure is a four-story mercantile that was under renovation. The structure previously was a hardware store. Luxury apartments were being created on the second, third and fourth floors. The storefront on the first floor was also being renovated.

Renovations had changed many aspects of the building, including thick triple-pane replacement windows on side A, many new apartments, a new stairwell location and a new elevator shaft. Horizontal ventilation was initially limited to each set of two small windows directly above each of the eight large replacement side A windows. The large replacement windows proved difficult to knock out from the outside by personnel in Truck 1's aerial platform. These unknown/unexpected factors served to complicate the operation.

This stubborn fire was well advanced prior to our arrival. Engine Rescue 1 arrived first and quickly upgraded the call to a working alarm. The incident commander subsequently called for a second alarm. First-responding units quickly knocked down heavy fire conditions on the first-floor storefront area. However, fire had extended to the floors above. Several attempts to find an egress to the upper floors were unsuccessful.

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