"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!" OK, Now What?

Before we go to this month?s Close Call case study, I want to throw a few thoughts on the table regarding firefighter line-of-duty deaths. Several readers recently e-mailed, ?Does it seem like there are more and more of them?? Yes, to me it does...


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Of course, you can think of many more. But those are a good start.

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

It was 11:41 on a January night. Our fire department responded to the report of a house fire in a building under construction. Police officers had been patrolling the neighborhood on a report of a smell of smoke for approximately 10 minutes prior to a neighbor?s 911 call confirming a fire.

Our units responded, including an engine with three personnel, a truck with three personnel and an ambulance with one person. In addition, a still alarm (a full structural response) was called out the door (of the firehouse) by the responding captain. That included an additional engine, two trucks, an ambulance, an incident safety officer, a rapid intervention team officer and a chief officer. This timely still- alarm request proved invaluable later.

Upon arrival, the shift captain reported sectors A and B were clear, but there was fire in a protrusion of the D sector of the home, including some exterior fire in that sector at the roof line. The captain ordered the crews to switch to fireground ?red? channel. The truck took the front of the building and assumed command and accountability.

The engine crew took a 13?4-inch pre-connected line to the A/D corner, where a door led into a library. From the doorway the crew was able to knock almost 90% of the fire. In the meantime, a 21?2-inch line was connected and the crew switched lines, then began to enter the library to continue suppression efforts.

At this point, the first mutual aid company, a truck, arrived on the scene and was assigned to a second line to work fire at the roof line. A box alarm was requested per command. The crews had been on the scene for about 10 minutes.

What occurred next is every fire chief?s nightmare. One interior crew consisting of two firefighters had made entry with the 21?2-inch line. The firefighters were approximately 25 feet into the library when the lead firefighter fell through a hole in the floor. At the time he went through the floor, both he and his partner were attempting to pull more line into the building. The firefighters were only three to five feet apart.

When the lead firefighter went through the hole, he fell 10 to 12 feet and landed on his hands and knees. Fire was evident at the ceiling line to his right, but had no direct contact with him. His partner did not initially know what had happened. However, the first thing the downed firefighter did was tell his partner to hold his position exactly where he was, as there was a hole. He then radioed a Mayday call. The fallen firefighter communicated that he was capable of assisting in his own rescue and that there was fire at the basement ceiling, but not in direct contact with him at that time.

The firefighter?s partner, due to the short distance they were into the structure, crawled back to the door to insure that the captain had heard the Mayday call, which had been acknowledged by the shift lieutenant. The shift lieutenant relayed this information to the captain. An exterior hoseline was used to protect the downed firefighter. At this time, the deputy chief arrived on the scene and had all companies, except the rescue companies, switch to fireground ?white? for operational communications.

As the mutual aid crew came up the front walk to take their assignment as the second line, they were immediately reassigned to rapid intervention along with the remaining first-due crews. A 20-foot roof ladder was taken into the structure and the plan was to get it into the hole as quickly as possible so the downed firefighter could self rescue. At the same time, the shift lieutenant was in search of another entrance to the basement from the exterior.

The visibility in the library at this point was zero and the fire was growing and threatened to cut off the access hole from below. The partner used voice contact to direct the rapid intervention team?s effort to place a ladder in the hole. The first two attempts failed because the ladder hit debris or overshot the firefighter. He too was struggling with limited visibility and his low-air alarm was activating.