Close Calls

Firehouse® Magazine readers and contributing editors team up to tell survivors’ stories of their close calls on the fireground.


In the May and June issues, we asked readers to share their accounts of incidents in which firefighters found themselves in dangerous or life-threatening situations, with the intention of sharing the information and learning from one another to reduce injuries and deaths. These accounts, in the...


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In the May and June issues, we asked readers to share their accounts of incidents in which firefighters found themselves in dangerous or life-threatening situations, with the intention of sharing the information and learning from one another to reduce injuries and deaths. These accounts, in the firefighters' own words, can help others avoid similar "close calls." We thank those firefighters who are willing to share their stories. We will not identify any individuals, departments or communities. Our only intention is to provide educational information and prevent future tragedies.

We thank Contributing Editors William Goldfeder and Mark McLees for helping compile these reports. We again invite readers to share their experiences. You may send them to Chief Goldfeder at chgold151@aol.com.

MAINE: Firefighter Down On Rooftop

It was a relatively small job, but a roof vent was still needed. I didn't have a set (access) with my truck because it is a Snorkel and we were in some pretty heavy trees. The first-due ladder had a clear set to the roof of this 31/2-story building. In these cases the roof crew from the second-due ladder will simply go up over the first ladder and make up a two- or three-man team.

This time, I was meeting a firefighter who was already on the end of the aerial and asking me to bring up a roof ladder. We started hand cutting through the slate roof. Things had started to slow down and we had face-to-face contact with the boys in the attic through the hole. Command had reported that some fire was showing on a rake board near the ridge pole. The crew in the attic simply handed us a small line and we scurried across the ridge and played some water on the fire.

It was fairly humid and we were starting to get a bit tired. I told the firefighter that we should get back near the ladder before we took a break, only because once you stop it's hard to get moving again. Just as he approached me, he cried out, "Light-headed, light-Headed!" He fell against me and I was left holding him, and he's my size, 240-250 pounds! I was straddling the ridge pole and he was hanging.

Obviously, I could not free a hand to call for help on the radio. Luckily, a firefighter on another engine happened to see what was going on and came up the ladder. I wear a (non-issued) harness with some life-safety webbing attached. I was able to have the firefighter get the webbing around the member who was passing out, who was now semi-conscious, and loop it through his waist strap on the SCBA - thank God he was wearing his waist strap - and hook it back into the harness that I was wearing.

We now had him secured, but the issue now was getting him off the roof. Getting to the ladder was going to next to impossible due to him being in and out of consciousness. A decision was made to cut another hole in the roof so we could lower him down through. This went off without a hitch. He was brought down through the inside of the building to awaiting paramedics who treated and transported him to the medical center. He was admitted overnight with heat exhaustion and fatigue.

Without this strap, he would have certainly fallen off the roof, and God only knows what the result may have been. For all intents and purposes we all went home (alive) that night, although the steak and potatoes that were left on the plates at the station did not survive the test of time.

The main issues that I can't stress enough are:

  1. ALWAYS wear the waist strap on the SCBA.
  2. NEVER go to the roof alone.
  3. ALWAYS wear some kind of ladder belt or harness.

NEW YORK: Stairs Collapse

I was on an engine at a fire in a tenement. It was heavily involved. We went in and up to second floor. When we tried to go to the third floor, the stairs collapsed. That left two engine companies and a truck company on the landing. Everyone started bailing out as best they could. Some went out a rear fire escape, others out the front fire escape. Myself and another firefighter did not see where everyone went, so we decided to go down the burning rubble of the stairs (I was inexperienced).

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