We have been asking 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...
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We had a 21/2-story frame. The first engine company did not realize the fire was in the wall generating from the second floor. They went to the third floor (also where they were directed) and entered the back. They moved to the front and encountered high heat on the floor and in a room, but no fire.
The second engine company arrived and they went in behind the first with a thermal imaging camera. They immediately saw the "hot wall" where the fire was. When they opened it up, the room started to take off.
As they retreated, the last guy in line as they rolled out the back door onto the outside stairwell was literally climbing over the guys in front of him. They went back to work, regrouped and resumed the attack. A length of hose burned up, a handlight was melted to the floor (they pried it free and continued to use it the rest of the evening).
I was not aware this happened at the time. The last guy in line came to me and reported his lower back felt like it was sunburned. I took a quick look at his back and it was a little red. He said he was OK and went back to work. When he returned to quarters, he discovered second-degree burns on his back, butt and the tops of his legs, through the turnout clothing.
We were lucky we did not lose someone that night. The first-in crew were experienced guys who knew when to leave, but a new firefighter may have tried to stay a little too long.
Watch For Hidden Hazards
I responded to the report of a structure fire in a residential neighborhood consisting of one- and two-story homes. When I arrived on the scene, I found a one-story house fully involved (this was a daytime fire). My company (an officer and two firefighters) was second due. We were ordered to do a primary search of the first floor.
After the fire was knocked down, we started to overhaul the living room. One of my firefighters started to open up the ceiling. He set his hook and gave a pull and a section of the second floor (12 feet by 12 feet) came down on top of me. At the time, I didn't know if it was the ceiling or the building was starting to collapse. One of my buddies from another company pulled me out from under the debris.
What I didn't know until later was that a victim who was in the attic also came down on top of me. I ended up with a chipped bone in my elbow. Why the victim was in the attic we will never know. The size of the house indicated that the attic wasn't much more than a crawl space. Even with the fire out it took awhile to find the attic entrance. The fire department later found out that the building was being used as a flophouse.
I feel that this fire got such a good start for two reasons: it was winter and doors and windows were closed; and the fire had almost burned itself out before one window broke and the whole building flashed, blowing out almost all of the windows. The cause of the fire was careless smoking.