Small Towns, Small Hazards? Not A Chance! – Part 1

We’ve received several “small town” Close Calls that we’ll run consecutively this month and next. Together with photos, these drive home the fact that the “bad stuff” can and does happen to all of us. As you will read, the incidents are...


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We’ve received several “small town” Close Calls that we’ll run consecutively this month and next. Together with photos, these drive home the fact that the “bad stuff” can and does happen to all of us. As you will read, the incidents are different, but they involved similar-size fire departments. The Close Call for this month affects a combination department in a suburban/rural area answering approximately 700 calls annually. Next month, we will feature a fire department that is in a more suburban area, but is fully volunteer with approximately 500 calls annually.

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Photo Courtesy Billy Goldfeder
Always expect the worst-case scenario. In this incident, an oxygen tank that had been placed on the porch exploded during a fire.

Both fire departments were responding to what is considered by any of us to be “a typical call,” but as we have learned, we must always expect the unexpected and train, prepare and plan for worst-case scenarios.

This account is provided by a reader. Chief Goldfeder’s comments follow:

Our response area is 40 square miles, has about 2,000 residents and significant industry. We are a part of three separate fire companies in our entire town with 6,000-plus residents. We are a combination department operating out of one fire station with three career firefighters on duty Monday through Friday, with a call force responding as well. Our station normally responds to approximately 700-plus calls per year.

A call came directly to the fire station reporting a structure fire. Two of our personnel were returning from the hospital after a rescue call, which left two on-duty firefighters (including the chief) at the station. The chief and our hazards truck were the first to arrive on scene. On arrival, the chief reported a working dwelling fire with heavy fire showing. We also had mutual aid companies responding in as a reactivation of our alarm. Several of our call firefighters were arriving on the scene.

The house was one story, of wood-frame construction, 25 by 40 feet. An engine/tanker, manned by me, arrived less than a minute later. I was fully geared in PPE (personal protective equipment), Nomex hood, packed up with my SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) and PASS (personal alert safety system) device on. I deployed a 1¾-inch line (backed up by the chief) and began to hit the front porch, which was totally involved. The fire on the porch was knocked down quickly.

As I was preparing to enter the home to knock down the remaining fire that was rolling in the kitchen area, I heard a loud explosion and then found myself approximately 15 feet from my original location on the porch back out into the street. I felt that I was not hurt, but a bit shook up and able to get up and continue making entry into the house. I was able to knock down the remaining body of fire and was fortunate not to receive a single injury.

What happened? There was an oxygen tank at the house and it exploded during the fire! Had the M-size oxygen tank gone right instead of left, I would have felt the full force of the cylinder failure and its shrapnel from the cast metal base, which also blew apart. The fire was knocked down quickly, before the second engine arrived on scene.

What we didn’t know was that the cylinder was on the porch because the resident is oxygen dependent. We have been to the home on many occasions for medical aid, but no oxygen was stored on that porch previously. The resident managed to escape the home, but she suffered smoke inhalation, inhalation burns and burned feet. The tank first blew a hole in the wall of the house, pushed the left side of the porch two feet off the foundation and then went down through the floor and embedded itself in the ground. The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

These comments are based upon Chief Goldfeder’s observations and communications with the writer and others regarding this incident:

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Photo Courtesy Billy Goldfeder
The exploding oxygen tank blew a hole in the wall of the house and pushed the left side of the porch two feet off its foundation. It then went through the floor and embedded itself in the ground.
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