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If you were in the mutual aid fire department?s place, would you have been able to switch gears as effectively as they did and know what to do in a rescue situation? I will always be grateful they were there when the Mayday went down.
While our goal is always a perfect fire scene, we all know that is not usually our experience. I would mislead you and not provide some areas to ponder in your own organization if I did not point out our mistakes.
Lady luck was on our side. When the radio switch was made to fireground ?red,? only one member on the scene failed to hear that command ? the downed firefighter. Only the alert monitoring by the shift lieutenant, using the scan mode on his portable, insured that the downed firefighter was heard immediately. That message was then rebroadcast on fireground ?red.?
Because of the size of the home and the estimated depth of the basement, the 20-foot ladder was an appropriate choice. However, the room had a 14-foot boxed-beam ceiling. Along with the fact that it was not furnished, this provided room for the rescue crews to manage the ladder into the hole. In addition, building code regulations as to construction minimums allowed the rescue personnel safe haven around the rescue hole.
My lasting memory of this call will be that when I arrived, command confirmed the firefighter was out and being evaluated by the ambulance crew. I still did not know whether he was seriously injured. Once I saw him sitting in that vehicle, a little shaken, as we all would be, but none the worse for wear, I felt an incredible emotional relief and said a little prayer of thanks.
My next emotion was pride in working alongside a great group of professionals in my organization who take training very seriously. I also was proud to recognize our dedicated mutual aid crews, who take our calls and our firefighters as their own. You show what you are truly made of in the worst of times and this was certainly one of those times.
Lessons we learned and/or were reinforced that day included:
- Homes under construction, specifically those that are almost completed, can be traps for fire personnel because a long pre-burn may lead to void fires that go undetected on initial size up. What appears to be a room-and-contents fire may be primarily structural members.
- Escalate the level of alarm early. We needed all the people we had at the time of the Mayday transmission.
- Switch to a fireground radio frequency as soon as possible and confirm that all companies have switched and are operating on the same frequency.
- Never assume that a Mayday condition follows a time schedule. It can occur at the initial stages of the emergency. A review of some tragic firefighter losses found that many occur in the early stages; since the apparent magnitude of the event may not appear substantial, you can be caught off guard.
- Perform regular training on Mayday, self-rescue, emergency communications and rapid intervention team procedures with both line and command staff.
- During the investigation, an examination of the burn patterns revealed that although nearly all of the floor joists were consumed by the fire, those joists that survived were near the walls. Structural integrity is something to think about whenever possible if evacuating a structure to perform search and rescue or suppression where a long pre-burn may have occurred.
- Once a Mayday is transmitted, all hands on the scene want to be involved in the rescue. Since that is a given, be prepared to institute a calculated rescue attempt bearing in mind what may have caused the Mayday in the first place. Failure to heed this warning can lead to adding victims as opposed to rescuing them.
- Your ?360? of the building can provide valuable information. That information goes beyond fire extent and in the case of a building under construction can advise you if the building has gas or electrical service and access and egress points for rescue of civilians and firefighters alike.
- Thermal imaging cameras are a great tool even if you believe the occupancy is empty. They provide information well beyond victim location.