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This month, you will read an account of a fire that occurred at a single-family dwelling. It came in as a mattress fire, but when firefighters arrived, they had a house fire. This is another excellent example of how what we would consider a “typical response” that turned out to be anything but.
As firefighters, we easily “kick back” when we hear this type of dispatch, but then, when we least expect it, the incident escalates – helping us all understand why we can never let down our guard.
In this case, a fire officer was burned seriously. Fortunately, he has recovered and is back responding to fires, but the physical and mental scars of this fire will be with him forever. We’re grateful for his willingness to share his horrific experience with the readers of this column.
This account is provided by the reader:
We are a fully volunteer suburban/urban fire department with an average of 25-30 working structural fires annually. We do not provide EMS, but do support and respond with our local EMS volunteers. We have 130 firefighters answering over 1,000 runs annually.
Our fire dispatch received a call at 2:58 P.M. for a mattress fire in a single-family dwelling in a residential neighborhood. The first unit on scene, a chief officer, arrived at 2:59 and reported a working fire in a three-story wood-frame private dwelling and established command. Engine 9 and Ladder 6 responded at 3:02 with five members on each. Engine 9 was on scene at 3:03 and encountered a heavy fire condition with fire venting out the exposure 1 windows. At this time, Engine 9 was ordered to stretch a 1¾-inch line to the front door of the building. Before entering the building, the crew from Engine 9 had to extinguish a fire on a porch roof.
Ladder 6 (the truck that I was on as the officer in charge) arrived on scene at 3:06 and was ordered to stretch a second line to back up the first line, which was advancing toward the seat of the fire. Engine 9’s crew had to advance down a long hallway, make a 180-degree turn and make their way back toward exposure 1 to reach the seat of the fire. The crew from Ladder 6 and I stood fast in the hallway until Engine 9 reached the seat of the fire.
As the fire started darkening down, I made my way alone up to the second floor to search for any extension. When I reached the second floor, I encountered a heavy smoke condition and started to search the floor. I was making inspection holes in the lower parts of the walls to check for fire extension and venting as I progressed through my search. I was met on the second floor by another member who helped complete the search. The second line was sent up to the second floor at this time.
With no fire found by making the inspection holes and venting, the smoke on the second floor began to dissipate and I received a report from command of a heavy smoke condition on the third floor. I located the stairs to the third floor and made my way up with another member. On reaching the third floor, we encountered heavy smoke, zero visibility and a moderate heat condition with no fire showing. With the amount of fire on arrival at the 1-2 exposure on the first floor, we made our way to the same exposure on the third floor. A line was in place on the third floor and I began opening up the walls to check for fire. Upon opening up, we encountered some fire in this area, which was knocked down with the line.
At this time, my low-air alarm began to sound. I notified the officer in charge of the situation and I was relieved. I went outside to change my cylinder, then made my way back to second floor to relieve the officer on the third floor. When I reached the third floor for the second time, there was an increase in the heat and a second line was ordered there (the roof was being vented at this time). The amount of heat increased to the point that we opened the nozzles to help cool down the area. With no progress, I spoke to an assistant chief who was the interior operations commander and who was on the third floor with me. We decided to back everyone out of the building and go to a defensive operation.