A Lesson Reinforced: Nothing Is "Routine" About Firefighting The Dover Township Volunteer Fire Department in York County, PA, covers 44 square miles with a population of around 25,000. It is a suburban/rural, mainly residential community with several light commercial occupancies. The...
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I could hear my crew calling me throughout the incident. I tried to let them know I was OK, but they could not hear me because of my position and the debris around me. After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only five or six minutes, I saw my deputy chief come around the corner of the house. He was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. He moved some debris and helped Knowlton and me from the basement.
We collected ourselves in front of our engine and were checked out by EMS. After a few minutes, the deputy chief asked if we were ready to go back in to cover the rest of our crew, who had gone to the second floor to finish the fire attack we had started. We manned a hoseline protecting the stairs until we were relieved by another crew. It was unsettling sitting at the bottom of the stairs looking at the hole I had fallen into not 10 minutes before. After being relieved, all four crew members reunited at the front of our engine, thankful that no one had been hurt.
I read this column religiously and try to learn from others' mistakes. The following has been said more than once, but bears repeating. This was a "routine" fire. I expected nothing more. We were going to go in, knock down the fire, overhaul and go home. NOTHING is routine in this business. We must always be ready for the unexpected to occur. I never thought that I would ever be put in this type of situation, but I was wrong. Luckily, Knowlton and I received nothing more than some sprains and strains from this incident. We were very fortunate. We are sharing our lessons learned in the hopes that other firefighters may benefit from our experience.
The following account is by Captain James Schlosser Jr.:
Our station was dispatched to a neighboring municipality for a second-alarm working structure fire. Our engine had a 14-minute response time. We were the third engine on scene at the time. Upon our arrival, Deputy Chief Blazosky contacted command and requested orders. Command requested our crew to the scene and indicated that the fire was pretty much under control, but I soon realized that was not the case.
As we arrived, I looked out my engine's window and noticed heavy, brown smoke pumping out the eaves of the building. Deputy Chief Blazosky did a face-to-face with command, which was also operations and the pump operator at that time. Command had ordered us to attack the fire and ventilate the structure. Keep in mind that at this time our engine was the only full crew on the scene. Our deputy chief completed a walk-around of the structure and assumed operations.
I began to throw ladders to the second-floor window while the rest of the crew was working on horizontally ventilating the structure. There was a crew inside on the initial handline from the first-in company and a second line, with one firefighter, operating on the A-B corner. Fire in the basement at this time was very minimal, but fire on the first and second floors had suddenly begun to intensify. The initial crew began to bail out side D. I immediately went to the firefighter on side A and ordered him to move that line to side D to protect the crew coming out of the structure. I was met with resistance from this firefighter, who refused to follow my orders. Instead of making it an issue at that time, I went to the attack engine and pulled its 300-foot crosslay for a protection line. The firefighters had safely exited the structure by this time and the deputy chief had used their line to knock down a good bit of fire from the side D entrance.
My fire attack crew included Firefighters DeLauter, Knowlton and Spangenberger. We made entry into the structure from side D. DeLauter was the lead firefighter, sounding the floors as we went. He was followed by Knowlton, who was on the handline. Spangenberger was humping the hose/the hook man. I was officer in charge of the fire attack group. As we advanced the handline, DeLauter indicated that an opposing handline was hitting him from the exterior of the structure. I was located in the E quadrant of the building at the staircase to the second floor and Spangenberger was beside me. DeLauter and Knowlton were just inside quadrant A.