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Chimneys have a history of causing problems for firefighters. We have read National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Firefighter Fatality Investigation Reports that describe in great detail the issues of chimneys, steeples and related gravity-fighting structures that are a threat to firefighters. If you have not reviewed these, go to www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire and check out the hundreds of available reports. These reports are in-depth and state what happened and how it can be avoided.
A chimney collapsing at a single-family dwelling fire is the focus of this month's close call as submitted by the Little Rock, AR, Fire Department. The Little Rock Fire Department is comprised of 20 fire stations covering 122.31 square miles, protecting over 183,000 citizens. There are over 400 employees in the organization. Rhoda Mae Kerr, a fourth-generation firefighter, is the fire chief of the City of Little Rock.
Our sincere thanks to Chief Kerr, Battalion Chiefs Dave Wilson, Bryan Adkins and Doug Coney, and especially Fire Engineer Jason Weaver and the officers and members of the LRFD for their cooperation and willingness to share this information so other firefighters can learn.
This account is by Fire Engineer Jason Weaver:
It was about 2 A.M. on Nov. 15, 2006, when we received a call for a residential structure fire. It had been raining all night and now it was coming down in buckets. Dispatch stated that the house had been struck by lightning. We were the second engine company on scene; Engine 6 had arrived first and was already investigating. We stopped short at the plug and could see light smoke. Our captain assessed the situation and decided that we would go in and help Engine 6 make a quick knockdown, Engine 1 was right behind us and assumed water supply responsibilities.
While we were parking the apparatus, the wind shifted and pushed a large volume of smoke in our direction. We entered the front door of the structure with a 1Â¾-inch handline. We extinguished contents that had become involved on the way to the room that contained the bulk of the fire and heat. The room was cluttered and only partially involved, but the heat was intense. The contents were extinguished quickly, but the heat remained. Holes in the ceiling revealed that the fire was in the attic.
When we first placed our fire stream into the attic space through these voids, it seemed as if we were making headway. The volume of visible flame was reduced and the heat was slowly lessening. Then, all at once, the flames came back and the heat was even more intense. The fire had vented itself through the roof and the wind was blowing in, churning the fire. You could see the flames swirling around the attic and our fire stream was having no effect.
At this point, our incident commander ordered everyone out of the structure. We exited and my captain passed the nozzle to me and said that we were going to protect the exposure on the south side. We were to proceed to the rear of the structure and attempt to extinguish from that position. While moving into place, I came upon a short wall; it dropped off about three to four feet. I stopped to warn my captain and firefighter of this hazard and advised them that there were stairs. When I started to move forward again, I noticed that a coupling had become hung on a bush at the corner of the front porch. My captain ordered the firefighter to free the coupling. This placed him six to 10 feet away from me and the firefighter at the front corner of the structure 15 to 20 feet away.
Suddenly, I heard a loud crash followed by a rumble. The roof line and the wall were shaking so much that my first thought was that the roof had collapsed and the wall was going to fall. I tried to yell to warn my crew, but before I could get the words out, I saw a flash and my "lights" went out. I came to shortly after - my face ached and I could taste blood. I was scared. I just knew that if the wall hit me, it had to have crushed my captain. I tried to sit up to see if I could find him, but I couldn't. Then, I heard his voice, talking to me, and knew he was OK.