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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Pre-plans. Knowing what you are dealing with is vital. Sure, size-up is no option, but size-up with pre-planned information greatly increases our chances to succeed. In this case, due to the building being under renovation, companies may not have had time to "know" that information — but the fire marshal does. Fire marshals and fire inspectors should routinely be due on fires for the specific purpose of providing information to the incident commander, including information they might have only found out just prior to the fire! But don't forget the importance of pre-plans because a fire department responding to a building fire without prior information is going in unnecessarily blind.

Staffing. Simply put (as we have for years in this column), a fire department cannot function safely without the right amount of staffing. What is "the right amount"? As a part of your specific building pre-plan, determine what tasks you want done and apply the people (firefighters) to the tasks. For example, based on the needed fire flow, if you need two 2½-inch handlines, you will need at least 10 firefighters just for that specific task. Don't believe that? Go ahead and drill with two 2½-inch lines and see how you do. That's the best way to determine your staffing needs: by drilling and training on the buildings you will protect. Need a hole in the roof? How many firefighters will that take? Doing a search? How many floors? How large are the floors and how many rooms need to be searched? How quickly do you want them searched? Think about all the tasks that need to be performed at the fire and apply the needed firefighters. It takes firefighters to do what we do at a fire and it is totally predictable and can be planned for.

Apply the right first-alarm assignment based on the pre-plan information. Even with a single-family dwelling, there may be different needs. Is the area hydranted? What size is the home? In our fire district, for example, we have small homes in the older part of town and huge, 10,000-square-foot homes in the newer sections — two totally different kinds of fire requiring different staffing and tactics. The same thinking goes for commercial buildings. Simply put, you should have a minimum first-alarm assignment for any dwelling and a separate first-alarm assignment for a commercial building, an industrial building, a health-care facility, etc. Naturally, different buildings and occupancies will require different tactics as well as different alarm assignment. It's all about knowing as much about what you are responding to, before you have to respond.

Rapid intervention teams. In this case, the team did its job. While used only when things get bad, a rapid intervention team must be assigned whenever firefighters may need assistance. Fortunately, the CFD understood that prior to this fire.

This fire demonstrates the importance of rapid intervention teams, the incident command system and accountability. In discussions with Chief Herbaugh, valuable lessons were learned and the Cumberland Fire Department is working on new procedures that will allow it to expand its incident management structure, bring out more personnel and improve accountability. The fact that the CFD had this event and is going to apply the lessons learned to minimize the chances of this happening again may be the best lesson learned for the rest of us. Ignoring close calls that happen to our own fire departments and failing to learn from the close calls of others clearly predicts what will happen in the future.


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.