Know What You Can Handle— And What You Cannot

This account is provided by a reader. Chief Goldfeder's comments follow. I am a chief officer of our volunteer fire company and I am approaching two decades as a firefighter. I also have served more than a decade as a career firefighter/paramedic...


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

I am a chief officer of our volunteer fire company and I am approaching two decades as a firefighter. I also have served more than a decade as a career firefighter/paramedic.

I was on my way into work one cold winter evening. We had several inches of fresh snow on the ground. I had my turnout gear with me in my truck because I had attended a truck operations class that day. I did not have an SCBA. I was nearing our district when the company was dispatched for a dwelling fire. I had to pass the fire to get to the firehouse, so I used my Nextel phone to let my partners know I would be on scene. The chief also responded, but I knew he would arrive before me as he lived right around the corner from the location of the fire.

Upon my arrival, the chief had already radioed a "working fire." I parked away from the scene and donned my turnout gear. I immediately met up with the chief and let him know I was on scene. He advised me of a kitchen fire.

The residence was an old "true" 11/2-story single, up on a hill. We had a snow-covered yard. The driveway went up the hill to the rear of the house. The kitchen was in the rear C/D corner, and there was a rear main purpose door present entering the kitchen. There was a solid wood entry door that was open, but there also was a fully glass storm door that was closed.

Hearing the engine coming, I donned the chief's airpack and waited. The engine arrived and pulled up the driveway. I pulled the 13/4-inch crosslay and stretched it to the rear door. I was backed up by one of my very experienced partners who was bent over, ready to go. He was over my right shoulder. Two not-so-experienced volunteers were kneeling to my left. I was kneeling at the glass door.

I donned my facepiece, but had not connected my SCBA. Looking in the glass door to the kitchen, very little smoke was present, but I could see the top cabinets in front of me burning. (Just a two-bit, routine kitchen fire, was my thought.) I don't remember if I had water or if water was on the way. I opened the glass door. I immediately heard a rush of air and heard a loud bang. I awoke on my back, not near where I had started, to someone shaking me and asking me if I was OK. I still was not able to see anything.

I got back to my feet, grabbed the hoseline and hobbled to the door again. Back on my knees and in the door we went. I remembered crawling over cabinet doors and wondering what they were doing there. The smoke was heavy this time. We crawled into the kitchen and knocked down the immediate fire. That is when it dawned on me that I didn't really know what was going on, and that I was hurt - I had sprained my left ankle. I removed myself to the exterior, then was ordered to the hospital by the chief.

Immediately after I exited the building, my partner exited and began to rip my facepiece and hood off my head. I asked him what he was doing and he told me I was in a big fireball and he was checking me for burns. (I have no recall of the fireball). Apparently, the bang I heard was a very loud explosion to everyone else. My partner stated he landed on the hood of a car that was parked about 10 feet behind us. I don't know if I went through or over the guys to my left.

My immediate lessons learned were:

  1. Expect the unexpected.
  2. Wear full turnout gear. I specifically remember pulling my hood completely up over my facepiece. I don't know why, because I usually just throw it up and go.
  3. Vent early, vent high!
  4. Stay low. I was kneeling down at the door, pretty low. If I had been standing or even just had bent over, I would have taken the full blow.
  5. Any person or crew involved in an "unusual stress incident" (a flashover, backdraft, or lost or trapped firefighter) is benched. It was a good hour before I realized my bell was rung. I really didn't know what had happened and what was going on. We went back inside working on adrenaline and instinct without thought process. This is bad!
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