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A first alarm assignment was dispatched by our county fire communications center for a dwelling fire at 0157 Hours. This assignment sends 3 Engines, 2 Ladders, 1 Rescue, and ALS. Our Chief responded on dispatch, and County radio advised him of PD on scene with a working fire. The Chief arrived and reported a 2.5 story single family dwelling with smoke showing and fire visible on the first floor inside of a door on side 4. He requested the 3rd Truck Company due on the assifnment. It should be noted that we are all volunteer but operate a "box alarm" system that has several other FD's responding with us. Our FD responds to approx. 600 incidents annually with 25 active members protecting 15,000 in our first due area.
I arrived (riding the front seat) on the first arriving Engine Company, Engine 753. We laid 5" from a nearby hydrant going in. I ordered the driver to stop well short of the structure to leave room for the Truck. We approached with sides 1-4 visible. Smoke was in the street and the familiar smell of burning plaster was present. Flames were visible through a few windows on the first floor of side 4. At this point, things got interesting. Seconds after setting the parking brake, my driver advised me that the pump transfer was not working properly. This was a late 70's CF Mack, and with that style rig, you either know the manual transfer procedure, or you don't. That's the deal. My driver is known to be a good operator, but unfortunately, he was not sure on the manual transfer. I ordered the crew to stretch a small line to the front door, and I advised them I would join them shortly. I exited the front seat, went around the rig, and manually transferred the pump into gear. The driver took over from there with pump ops. No delay in fire attack occurred from this.
As I walked to the front of the structure, my crew had just finished forcing the front door, and was calling for water in the line. Conditions were such that visibility was not good for the next ten minutes or so. Smoke was pouring out of the front door, down to the floor. I dropped down on the front porch, and packed up-breathing air. I said a few words to the Truck Co. officer, who was now on the front porch beginning to remove window covering. Something to the effect of "get this place opened up".
This house was at the time of this fire, known to most likely be vacant. There was a recent eviction of a tenant, and we had gutted one room on the 1st floor during a previous suspicious fire. The whole house was one rental unit, it was not subdivided. As a result of us reviously venting of windows, many of the exterior windows were now covered with plywood and secured with substantial screws. The 1st arriving Truck crew was assigned OVM and opening of all doors.
The push of the handline was moving, but some problems were encountered. The nozzleman was concerned with good reason, about what they perceived were holes in the floor. I ended up ahead of the line, searching for the fire. I did find the fire. It was on the first floor, and rolling along the ceiling, near side 4 , in my estimation near 2/3 of the way back from side 1, and near the stairs to the basement. I knew the basic layout of the floor, as I was on the previous fire there. However, at this time, visibility was near zero. The crew of E753 operated the handline on all visible fire, and I confirmed by feeling, that the fire was at or near to the stairs to the basement. The stairs had been enclosed and had a door at the 1st floor level (these stairs run from 1st floor to basement). The wall and door assembly were gutted and at this point, I felt we had suppressed the bulk of the fire. I felt for the stairs, and could not find them. I was somewhat confused. Later, during line movement, I discovered that where I was reaching for stairs, there were in fact holes burned through the floor. Based on conditions, I felt we either were dealing with a fire confined to the 1st floor, or a basement fire that we knocked most of from the 1st floor stairway opening. In any case, this was a 100 year old balloon frame house, and we needed to get to the upper areas of the structure to check for extension.