On Main Street: Heavy Smoke & Fire, Then Boom! Firefighters Down!

As mentioned in the past several columns, we normally don’t identify fire departments here, but several departments have told us that they are willing to openly share their stories. Again, that is a refreshing approach, as difficult as it can be. This...


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As we had discussed at our monthly officers’ meeting a few days earlier, a fire in this building would be a major event and could threaten our entire downtown business district. It is one of those areas where you dread a fire.

I arrived about 10 minutes into the incident after stopping at the fire station to pick up the command unit and make a mutual aid radio call to the Brunswick County Dispatch Center to request an aerial from South Hill, VA.

Timeline

4:40 P.M.

4:41 – Fire department is dispatched. First alarm: Blackstone Volunteer Fire Department Engines 4 and 3, Truck 9 (a 75-foot aerial), Rescue 10, Command Unit 2; Fort Pickett Engine 12 responds on automatic mutual aid.

4:44 – First-arriving police unit reports “fire in the building.”

4:46 – The first-arriving fire officer, Lieutenant Tony Bradford (in a personal vehicle), reports a “major commercial fire.” He establishes command, advises that the fire is in the building and has extended to the second floor. Heavy fire is also reported at the rear. Command requests the Crewe Volunteer Fire Department for mutual aid. Blackstone Engine 4 arrives on the scene. A 1¾-inch line is pulled and advanced to the front door. Downstairs has light smoke.

4:47 – The fire chief is responding. He requests mutual aid from the Kenbridge Volunteer Fire Department and verifies that Crewe is being dispatched. He requests a second alarm for Blackstone.

4:48 – The Nottoway County Emergency Squad (EMS) is dispatched on automatic mutual aid. Truck 9 is on scene at the front of the building. The Blackstone second alarm is sounded.

4:51 – The fire chief contacts Mecklenburg County for the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department’s 75-foot aerial (the next-closest aerial) and a support pumper.

4:53 – The fire chief arrives on scene, holds a quick face-to-face meeting with Bradford and assumes command. Bradford becomes “operations.”

4:55 – Fort Pickett requests an assignment, lays a five-inch supply line from a location one block east to the rear of the structure.

5:05 P.M. – The Kenbridge Volunteer Fire Department arrives on location, lays a line and is assigned to the right exposure, Johnny’s Gym.

5:06 – The Crewe Volunteer Fire Department arrives and is sent to the right rear of fire structure to assist Engine 3’s attack.

5:14 – Command calls the Blackstone dispatch center, reports an explosion on the scene and asks for “every ambulance in the county.”

5:15 – Command calls the Nottoway County Dispatch Center on the same frequency and reports an explosion and building collapse. Requests all available volunteer rescue squad ambulances for multiple firefighter injuries.

5:28 –South Hill Ladder 7 and support on location.

5:29 – Nottoway Ambulance 725 enroute to Farmville Hospital with one firefighter. Nottoway Ambulance 720 enroute to Petersburg Hospital with two firefighters.

6:01 P.M. – Some EMS disregarded by command as incident becomes under control.

6:02 – Ambulances 724 and 725 returns. All firefighters are “treated and released.”

10 P.M. – Some fire mutual aid returned to service.

11:15 P.M. – Command terminated. Engine 4 remains on re watch; all other units return to service.

Operations and Fire Attack

This was an “it’s way ahead of us fire” on arrival. The time of day, like on any incident, affected our response, since many firefighters were still at work and manpower is short for what we are facing. Automatic mutual aid and second-alarm mutual aid was coming, but it would take 10 to 15 minutes for the first wave to arrive. Main Street is literally our town’s main street, so it was clogged with traffic and parked cars. Some people were trying to move their cars and get out of the way while others emptied out of businesses, eager to get a look at the “excitement.” Police were doing a good job of shutting down the street and keeping people away, but a lot of people were still in the area. A police line was established early, and many local business professionals, politicians and other citizens stayed behind the line watching.