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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After replacing my helmet, I was able to turn on my flashlight. I heard someone call a Mayday. Then I heard DeLauter call a Mayday. DeLauter moved some more, so I also tried to move and I was finally able to roll off him. Once I had rolled off him, I could see outside. I heard the deputy chief calling us from the outside. I saw DeLauter crawl through a small opening and I followed him out. We took our masks off with a big sigh of relief. We were both OK. After several minutes, the deputy chief asked us if we wanted to go back in with a line to protect the crew upstairs. We stayed on the line at the base of the stairs until another crew came and relieved us. We went back outside and met back up with our crew.
The following account is by Firefighter Brian Spangenberger:
Arriving on scene as the third engine in, I got a good look at the structure. I instantly knew that the fire inside was still well involved. Dark-brown smoke was pouring out of the eaves and nothing was vented. As my crew was gathering in front of our engine awaiting our assignment, I told my captain that the fire was still rocking inside and that the roof needed to be vented. As we were walking up to side D, I noticed there was no command established. The pump operator was both command and operations.
Upon arriving on side D, we noticed a crew inside with a handline. I was told by my chief to start taking windows. As the rest of my crew was venting the first floor, I went up on the porch roof and vented the second-floor windows. It seemed within seconds we had fire licking out the windows and door at us. It was so bad the crew inside had to bail out. My crew quickly regrouped and started to go inside to make an attack on the fire. My crew consisted of a seasoned firefighter in the lead, a rookie on the nozzle, myself and our captain. This was the rookie's first "real" fire.
Once inside, we noticed that the second floor was well off. My captain wanted us to make an attack on that fire, but our lead firefighter wanted to hit the fire in the B sector before we proceeded up the stairs so we wouldn't get trapped. As the lead firefighter crawled toward the living room in sector A, I could hear him sounding the floor. Once we entered the living room, my biggest fear happened - two of my brothers fell through the floor into the basement. The lead firefighter and the rookie disappeared right in front of my eyes. I couldn't have been more than three feet from them. I remember freezing and thinking to myself, "What the hell just happened?"
I quickly regained my cool and yelled back to my captain, telling him two of our guys just fell through the floor. Having heard this, he immediately called a Mayday. He called a total of three Maydays on different channels, but received no response. After having done that, he yelled to the operations officer, who was my deputy chief, that two of our guys had just fallen into the basement. The deputy chief quickly ran around to the A side and located them. This whole ordeal took only about seven minutes, but being inside, feeling helpless, it seemed like an eternity. The best thing was hearing my deputy chief telling my captain and me that he found them and they are OK.
After this whole experience, I will never again take the mindset of a "typical" fire. Seeing this made me realize just how quickly things can go bad. Another lesson I learned is that training should be taken seriously because you never know when you will need to rely on it.
The following lessons learned, comments and observations by Chief Goldfeder are based on communications with the writers and others.
A simple house fire? Forget it. They don't exist. Well, they don't exist until after the incident is over. If everything went well, then it seemed simple - but when it doesn't go well, they are never simple. Since so many factors can come into play on the fireground, we must always respond, operate, staff, train and command as if something could go wrong. The preparation required (training) to improve the chances of the incident going well are not at all simple. Without training, which can be everything from simple crew integrity training to hose stream management, "perceived" simple can turn deadly.
Please note the commonality of this month's close call. There have been several recent fatalities caused by firefighters falling through floors and becoming trapped in the burning rooms below. Firefighters are reminded to size-up, identify the fire problem and the fire location, and use extreme caution and appropriate tactics when there is the possibility that the fire is below you, especially in a single-family dwelling of lightweight construction.
Several lessons were learned or reinforced in this incident: