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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McCaa knew he had competent subordinate chiefs dealing with the fire, so he made it his priority to determine what had happened to the water supply to Engine 11-1. He also requested the assistance of Mike Pauly, a fellow pump mechanic and hydraulics instructor for the PSFA who has been an active member of the LFD since the mid-1960s. They realized the five-inch hose was solid at the intake connection. Both of them remembered an identical situation that occurred while they were teaching a pump class years earlier. The inside liner of the five-inch hose had separated from the outside jacket, moved with the water to the pump, and then entered the pump. This time, they knew they were not going to be able to remove the liner from its new position. The pump's impeller shaft was tight, unable to turn.
The hose lay from Engine 13-2 was completed with hose from Rescue 14-1 and the hydrant was charged. Engine 15-1 arrived with its supply line.
At 7:42, a connection came apart in the Engine 13-2 supply line when another set of couplings twisted apart. The hydrant had to be shut down and another section of hose added. Command requested Engine 4-1 from the Highland Park Hose Company, Station 4, in Derry Township and Engine 17-1 from the West Granville Fire Company, Station 17.
While responding on Engine 17-1, we speculated that we were going to be requested as part of Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) 32. That is a recently formed group of firefighters who have taken specialized training and practiced performing firefighter rescue evolutions. This, however, was not mentioned during dispatch, and we assumed we would go to a ramp at the river a few blocks from the fire and set up a fill site for tankers or lay another five-inch supply line from the fire to that ramp.
We heard Engine 4-1 assigned to stage at Station 11 and assumed we would also be staged at another borough station. Surprisingly, we were asked to stage near the fire. The time was 7:51 A.M. Because of a "dead spot" or heavy radio traffic, we did not hear command request RIT32 to the scene. At 7:54, we arrived at our assigned staging area and were asked if we had anyone for a rapid intervention team. We assembled our rapid intervention tools, still unaware that the RIT32 had been requested. Several hoselines were visible into the structure and numerous firefighters were seen working outside the building on side B.
As we set up our rapid intervention team staging area near the rear of Engine 11-1, we were told by EMS Chief 12 Pat Shoop that several firefighters were reported to be trapped. I asked Yohn if this was true and he verified the entrapment. We were told one firefighter was known to be trapped at the rear of the structure, near the C-side wall. He and two other firefighters had advanced a hoseline into the structure from side C and attempted to extinguish fire on the first floor (Division 1). One of them left because of a problem with his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), leaving two firefighters inside. Shortly after that, a collapse occurred, bringing the second floor (Division 2) down on top of the firefighters, Charles Duncan and James Fryer. Fryer extricated himself and escaped through the window near his location, but Duncan was not as lucky. Ceiling and floor materials, furniture and other debris trapped him.
We were watching the firefighters who were working near the B-C corner of the structure at a hole in the B-side wall. Yohn and McCaa asked for the rapid intervention team officer. Chief 17-2 Allan Winn walked to the A-B corner with them, then gave us our assignment. Additional members of RIT32 arrived from Station 2, the East Derry Fire Company of Derry Township.
We were assigned to assist the firefighters who already were working to find the trapped firefighter. I tied one end of the bagged search rope to a utility pole near the A-B corner of the structure. We walked about 20 feet along side B, but were unable to do much immediately because many firefighters from the Lewistown Fire Department were in this area.
After a while, Chief 2-1 Ed Mann and I pushed our way to the hole at the side B wall. Mann, who is the Pennsylvania state fire commissioner, is a strong advocate of accountability and rapid intervention teams. We began to remove debris, including box springs, through the hole in the side B wall. This was difficult, time-consuming, and energy-intensive work. After enough debris was removed, Mann and I entered the structure and began to search for the downed firefighter. Inside, the conditions at the B-C corner were moderately smoky and slightly warm. I crawled about 10 feet and heard someone say, "We found him and he is alive." I crawled toward several firefighters. I noticed that a window on the rear wall (side C), close to the B-C corner, was serving as an entry point for hoselines, firefighters and tools. When I reached Duncan, I saw Brady, Truck Captain Sam Markley of Station 11, Firefighter Paul Liddick and Chief Scott Beers of Station 15 working to free Duncan.