Small Towns, Small Hazards? Not a Chance! – Part 2

Just a car fire...then an explosion with a firefighter injured! “I heard a loud bang, sending a jolt through my body.” As we continue with part 2, we are looking at some smaller-town fire departments and some close calls they...


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Just a car fire...then an explosion with a firefighter injured!

“I heard a loud bang, sending a jolt through my body.”

As we continue with part 2, we are looking at some smaller-town fire departments and some close calls they experienced. This month, we go to an all-volunteer fire department that responds to over 500 calls annually. This response was to a car fire. All of us respond to car fires regularly — and probably operate in a similar manner. Actually, the fact that these firefighters were fully geared up sets a better example than some.


Photo courtesy of Windsor Locks FD
Bunker pants showing entry point in upper left thigh.

These accounts have been provided by the Windsor Locks Fire Department members as noted above. Chief Goldfeder’s comments follow:

Chief Gary Ruggiero: On Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004, the Windsor Locks Fire Department responded to a reported car fire. Upon arrival, the fire was confined to the engine compartment. During gaining access to the engine compartment, one of my firefighters had just released the hood safety latch when the hood shock strut exploded and fired into the firefighter, striking him in his upper thigh and piercing completely through his leg and bunker pants with the approximate 18-inch-long strut. He is home recuperating and we will not know how extensive his injury is for awhile yet.

I wish to make other departments mindful that these struts are gas filled and are common. The fire and accident remain under investigation. We wish to pass this along to other firefighters to be aware of the potential for these shocks to fail when exposed to fire. I am just grateful that this accident did not have a worse outcome.

Firefighter Drew Hill: It was early evening on a Sunday. While I was lying on the couch relaxing before another work week, our fire department was dispatched to 269 Main St. for a reported car fire in the parking lot of the gas station/mini-mart. The police department was also dispatched at the same time. My wife had left a minute or two earlier and I thought I would pass her at the end of the street. No luck. She had already made the turn.


Photo courtesy of Windsor Locks FD
The actual strut entering and exiting the bunker pants.

Ready to go to work, I asked the lieutenant as he was completing his 360 if we should pull the hood cable before it burns through. He stated that he had already pulled it and it did unlatch. There was not a whole lot of fire under the hood at this time. The clerk at the store and the car’s driver had made an attempt with a dry chemical extinguisher. The lieutenant and I did one more 360, discussing a course of action.

The car was parked sideways in the lot, well away from the gas pumps. The only possible exposure problem was the building and the propane tank rental cage, but they were not in any immediate danger with such a low volume of fire under the hood. We stood at about a 45-degree angle off of the front bumper at about 20-30 feet away. The fire seemed to be at the rear of the engine compartment near the fire wall. The front bumper was not involved. We were worried about the new impact bumpers. I knelt down on one knee to peek at the underside of the car and to see if we had good access to the safety catch on the latch. There was some fire dripping on the ground from the melting plastic and we had an unobstructed access to the hood latch.

The first-due engine was making its final turn to the gas station when we informed command that we would go ahead and open the hood. I proceeded to the front of the vehicle and attempted to open the hood. At the same time I put my hand on the latch, I heard a loud bang and felt like someone had just kicked me as hard as they could in the inner thigh, sending a jolt through my body. The first thought that crossed my mind was that the right front tire let go and that flying rubber had caught my leg.

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