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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"IT'S PROBABLY NOTHING…"
We were dispatched to respond to a report of a house fire. Upon the chief's response, he asked the dispatcher if there was a callback, since there had been a false alarm in the same area a day earlier. The dispatcher advised there was a callback number, but no further information was available.
I was the officer with the truck company. Upon our arrival, the chief informed us that the homeowner stated there was a "small fire in a couch" in the basement, but he had put it out. I was directed to go downstairs just to verify the situation. I took the one other truck member with me to investigate.
Upon entering the two-story Cape Cod-type private dwelling, I noticed a light smoke condition on the first floor. I went over to the basement door, opened it and encountered what I thought was a little too much smoke for an extinguished couch fire. At this time, two members from the engine came in, but had no hoseline with them. The other truck company member and I masked up before heading downstairs.
We descended the stairs cautiously, staying low, advancing slowly. The two engine members were behind us. There was not much heat on the way down. We reached the bottom of the stairs, still in the crouched-down position, and as we entered the room immediately to the left of the stairs the room suddenly lighted up with heavy fire. The fire shot above our heads and headed straight up the stairs.
The two engine members quickly exited the stairway while the other truck member and I made a mad dash for the stairway. We quickly reached the top of the stairs, and I attempted to reach over and close the door, but I was unable to, as the fire was blowtorching from the top of the doorway to the bottom.
When we came tumbling out of the front door, much to the chief's surprise, there were no hoselines stretched nor was an engine even ready to do so. We lost the house and nearly lost a few firefighters' lives.
Lessons Learned Discussion by Chief Goldfeder: This is a classic case of "P.A.N.s" - what I call "pre-arrival nothings," also known as "probably ain't nuth'n"! It's when we get the feeling that it will "probably be nothing" prior to our arrival.
"P.A.N." happens when we continually do something such as a response, and what we expected is not the end result, so we get "comfortable" that it probably is nothing. For example, a previous false alarm in this neighborhood earlier in the day immediately puts us in the mode of "P.A.N." You can almost hear them say, "Ah, it's not going to be anything" and immediately everyone "kicks it down a notch," leaving a wide-open area for bad stuff to happen.
It has happened to ALL of us and although that's no excuse, we have to constantly be ready to "expect the unexpected" - and that is a challenge. That's where the OFFICERS come into play. It's the duty of the officers - all of the officers! - to do everything in their power to have certain tasks "in place" just in case something goes wrong. We are in the business of responding to many "reports" that normally do not end up to be anything serious, which puts us in that very dangerous mode of thinking it will "probably be nothing."