On The Job – Pennsylvania: Firefighters Dodge "Bullets" On "Goose Day"

Patrick Pauly reports on a house fire where the water supply stopped, two collapses occurred and a firefighter was trapped. Share the many lessons learned at this unusual incident.


LEWISTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief Robert McCaa Personnel: 90 volunteer firefighters Apparatus: Three engines, one aerial ladder, one ladder tower, one rescue/engine Population: 9,200 Area: Two square miles Sept. 29 is known as "Goose Day" in Mifflin County, PA, dating to an English...


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LEWISTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief Robert McCaa
Personnel: 90 volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: Three engines, one aerial ladder, one ladder tower, one rescue/engine
Population: 9,200
Area: Two square miles

Sept. 29 is known as "Goose Day" in Mifflin County, PA, dating to an English tradition that says persons who eat goose on that day will have good luck for a year. On that day in 2002, local firefighters tested at least part of the tradition. After responding to a house fire, their water supply stopped, two collapses occurred, a firefighter was trapped and many lessons were learned.

That Sunday morning started out like most others, but many things changed after 7:23 A.M. That's when the Mifflin County Emergency Services 911 Center dispatched a reported structure fire in the 300 block of West Fourth Street in the Borough of Lewistown. The county seat, Lewistown is home to the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy (PSFA). The chief of the Lewistown Fire Department (LFD), Robert McCaa, is a 24-year resident instructor at PSFA.

The first-responding unit, Truck 11-1 (a 95-foot ladder tower) from United Fire and Rescue, Station 11, was about six blocks from the incident. As the unit left the bay onto West Third Street, the company reported "heavy smoke" at 7:24 A.M. The crew members were preparing to attend the second day of an "Advanced Truck Company Operations" class at the PSFA. The instructor for that class, Captain J.T. Brady of the Horry County, SC, Fire Department, stayed at their station the previous night, so he was on hand to assist in the rescue of the trapped firefighter. (Brady was a Pennsylvania firefighter and a PSFA adjunct instructor before moving to South Carolina in 1997.)

An ambulance from Fame EMS was on the scene ahead of fire department apparatus and reported it was transporting a burn victim from the fire. Several other units reported heavy smoke while enroute. On arrival, Truck 11-1 reported "a two-story dwelling fully involved." The next-arriving units, Assistant Chief Steve Yohn and Deputy Chief Bob Douglas, advised that West Fourth Street would need to be closed as the first-responding engine should lay a five-inch supply line from the nearest hydrant. Yohn assumed command and requested the electric company be notified for assistance with live wires.

Engine 11-1 responded at 7:27 and stated it would lay in. Engine 13-2 from the Brooklyn Hose Company, Station 13, responded at 7:28 and acknowledged Douglas' request to lay another five-inch supply line. At 7:28, Engine 11-1 reported on-scene and began a "blitz attack" with its top-mounted wagon pipe. Rescue 14-1 (a rescue/ engine with a rear-mount pump) from City Hook & Ladder, Station 14, responded at the same time. At 7:30, Engine 13-2 requested further information on its assignment. Hearing no response, it stated it would lay to the rear of the fire building. Several LFD support units responded with manpower.

McCaa arrived on-scene at 7:30, and he and Douglas met with Yohn and passed the word that no one should attempt entry into the structure. This was a defensive operation.

A quick knockdown of the visible fire was accomplished by the master-stream flow from Engine 11-1. Suddenly, at 7:32, the water stopped flowing onto the fire from Engine 11-1. Rescue 14-1, staged a half-block away, was asked to report to the structure and finish the hose lay. Engine 13-2 had laid all of the five-inch hose off the engine in an attempt to get to the rear of the fire building. The firefighters were unable to go behind the structure and ended up going a block out of the way.

Realizing he had a building fire, three engines on scene and no water supply, Yohn requested the next-due engine, Engine 15-1 from the Junction Fire Company, about five blocks from the fire. The engine was assigned to lay in to the front of the structure with a five-inch line. As the crew approached the assigned hydrant, they saw it had already been utilized by Engine 13-2 and requested a revised assignment. They were told to lay from a hydrant a few hundred feet farther away. At 7:36, Truck 14-1 (a 100-foot aerial) reported it was staged near the scene.

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