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 informed my crew that we had heavy fire on the second floor and I wanted to move our attack effort to that location. I was then informed by DeLauter that we should not proceed to the second floor because he could see fire in quadrant B. Being that we did not have an additional protection line on the first floor to cover us, I agreed and continued the attack on the first floor. Right after that message was relayed to me from DeLauter, Spangenberger began to yell at me, indicating that the first floor had just collapsed and two of our guys were in the basement. When I looked at the collapse area, I could not see either of the firefighters. Spangenberger was yelling to them trying to get some sort of response.
I immediately called for a Mayday. I called over our station's operations channel, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday." I received no response. I then switched to my low-band radio (the county operations channel) and announced "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday" and again received no response. Finally, I tried our county's main channel, but received no response. Another firefighter entered the structure and I ordered him to get a rope and carabiner for me. I still had not received a response from the firefighters through the hole or from command.
I soon realized that we were on our own and I started to set up some rigging that I had in my gear. I carry a 50-foot rope with a descending device and two carabiners. The airpack also has a bailout rope and harness. I was already thinking of ways to lower the rope to my firefighters to get them out. Spangenberger was still there to assist me. Before I could get anything set up, our deputy chief entered from side D. I explained to him that two firefighters had fallen into the basement and I couldn't see either of them and I had no idea of what their conditions were. Within two minutes, the deputy chief contacted me and advised me that both firefighters had been removed from the structure and were safe.
After hearing from our chief, I took a second to gather myself and gain my bearings. I did a quick scan of the first floor; there was no visible fire, but the second floor still had heavy fire showing from the staircase. Spangenberger and I continued our fire attack to the second floor. As we proceeded up the staircase, we encountered heavy fire and heat. I told operations that I needed the roof ventilated, but he was already a step ahead of me and had a crew venting the roof. The combined efforts of the vent group on the roof, Spangenberger attacking the fire and me pulling ceilings put the fire out in just a few minutes. After the fire was out, Spangenberger and I were physically, mentally and emotionally drained. We left the building for rehab. We also reunited with the rest of our crew, which was the best moment of the day.
The following account is by Firefighter Brian Knowlton:
We arrived as the third or fourth engine. We were ordered to begin ventilation, which we did by breaking windows on side D. While we were venting the windows, fire started to blow out of the window DeLauter had vented and the crew inside began to bail out because of the heavy fire. Our deputy chief picked up the nozzle from the interior crew's hoseline and knocked down the fire while DeLauter, Spangenberger, the captain and I masked up.
I grabbed the nozzle and entered the house. There was heavy smoke, but I could see no fire. DeLauter got in front of me and was sounding the floor to make sure it was safe. When we got to the stairs, the captain told us to go upstairs, but DeLauter told the captain that there was fire in the B quadrant and he wanted to hit that before we went upstairs. The captain gave the OK and DeLauter and I began moving that way with DeLauter again sounding the floor the whole way. I am not sure how far we got, but I felt the floor move.
The next thing I knew, I was sliding on my back head first and all I could see was an orange glow in the direction I was sliding to. I still had the nozzle in my hand and I tried to use it to stop my fall. Once I landed, I yelled to the rest of my crew that I still had the nozzle and to pull me up, but I don't think anyone could hear me. When I looked behind me, I could see the orange glow. If I looked up, I could see a firefighter with a 9 on the helmet, but that is all I could see. After lying there for a moment, I felt something move and I realized that I had fallen on top of DeLauter. I yelled at him, "Chuck, are you OK?" I repeated that several times, but I didn't hear him say anything. I tried to roll off him, but because of the position I was in, I couldn't move. Next, I tried to activate my PASS device, but I could not find the alarm button. I tried to turn on the flashlight that I carried on my helmet to alert my crew to where I was, but I found that my helmet had been knocked off and the chin strap was choking me.