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This account is provided by a reader. Chief Goldfeder's comments follow:
Every vocation has little issues that can add up to create big problems. Unfortunately, in the fire service, if the little issues keep adding up, the result can be catastrophic. These catastrophic events can affect the lives of the people we serve and the lives of our own people.
Our fire department covers 25 square miles and has two stations with 40 full-time and 20 part-time firefighter/medics. We respond to 4,000 total runs a year with 80% being EMS and 20% being fire runs. At our main station we have an engine, a medic unit and a battalion captain. At our second station we have an engine, a medic unit and a county hazmat foam trailer. Our department is a part of a very aggressive automatic fire mutual aid response plan.
In July 2004, prior to midnight, we received a call on the fire alarm phone informing us of a fire behind the caller's address. The Fire Alarm Office (FAO) stated it was having trouble getting it in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. In our area, we normally are dispatched over the station's PA system and then the message is sent to the computer screens in our vehicles. Unfortunately, if a streets doesn't correspond to the system, the dispatchers can't send it and there is a delay. That's when the FAO starts making phone calls to get units started.
The first unit to arrive was our shift commander at the rank of battalion captain. He gave a rundown of a working fire that wasn't heard by anyone. The captain had changed the battery in his portable radio two hours before the fire, but the battery was faulty and it affected communications for the arriving units.
We immediately were told that a police officer discovered the fire while driving by and got the homeowners out of the house. This was a dwelling fire. He reported that there was no one else in the house. The first-arriving engine was manned by a crew of three: a lieutenant, a firefighter as a pump operator (his first fire as pump operator) and another firefighter, at his first working fire. Two other firefighters were on the medic unit assigned to the fire and geared up to assist the engine.
The attached two-car garage was fully involved, so we initially pulled the 2.5-inch attack line to the garage due to the amount of fire. Right away, I felt that there were problems with the 2.5-inch line - there wasn't enough pressure. I noticed a few kinks nearby and asked a firefighter to straighten them out. It was then that we decided that the garage was a total loss and entered through the front door to protect the house.
There was a closet in front of the entryway. The living room was on the right and the dining room and kitchen were on the left, with the bedrooms down the hallway from the dining room. When we entered the structure, the smoke line was down to the floor, but there was very little heat (a clue that I missed, the fire was above us). We attempted to go right toward the garage. There were four firefighters (big ones) on the 2.5-inch line and we could only get in approximately six feet into the living room. We kept asking for more hose, but it wouldn't budge.
I then instructed everyone to go to the left of the entryway to see if we could get around that way. We got in 10 to 12 feet, but again we had trouble extending the line (we later found that the line was caught on a gas meter under a bush at the end of the driveway). I then asked two firefighters to get the 1.75-inch line that had been stretched to the front door. I thought that we could at least get this line into the structure.
When they left, a firefighter and I tried once again to move the line to the living room toward the garage on the D side of the structure. It was then that the garage roof collapsed and there was a blast and fireball that went from the garage through the entire structure. The blast blew out the front and rear doors and virtually every window in the house. The fireball extended into the basement, luckily avoiding the gun powder and all the reloading paraphernalia stored there.