Single Search: A Risky Gamble

This account is provided by a reader. Chief Goldfeder's comments follow. I was the officer on a three-person engine company that arrived first due at a working fire in a three-story occupied apartment house at 6 o'clock on a Saturday morning. Before...


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

I was the officer on a three-person engine company that arrived first due at a working fire in a three-story occupied apartment house at 6 o'clock on a Saturday morning. Before we had even left quarters, the chief was on the scene reporting a working fire with reports of people trapped.

Our volunteer department's response was two ladder companies and one additional engine, for a total of two and two plus chiefs as well as members responding directly to the scene. Our total manpower was 20 firefighters, including command, on the first-alarm assignment. We also received an additional mutual aid engine, truck and ambulance as a part of the second alarm.

We arrived on the scene quickly, as the address was only two blocks from our firehouse. We hooked up to the nearest hydrant and stretched into the front of the building. As the pump operator and hydrant man were establishing the water supply, I began to stretch a two-inch attack line through the front door of the structure. I could see that the fire was in a first-floor rear apartment.

As I was stretching the line, the chief came out of a side alley and ordered me to abandon the stretch and conduct a vent/enter/search of a rear bedroom in the fire apartment where an elderly woman was supposedly trapped (we later learned that she had escaped prior to our arrival).

I climbed a portable ladder and entered the bedroom through a first-floor window about 10 feet off the ground, where visibility was poor at best. A civilian neighbor was placing a 24-foot aluminum extension ladder up to the window of the elderly woman's bedroom as I came down the alley. (Yes, I know that's contrary to procedure, but the ladder was in good condition and time was of the essence.) Smoke was issuing from the window and no other firefighters were available to help me.

I looked out into the apartment and could see exactly where the fire was burning, in an adjacent bedroom. I climbed in to begin a quick search on my own. Closing the bedroom door to buy some time, I searched the room with negative results. By this time, other companies had arrived, but entry still had not been gained through the front door of the apartment.

I then called for a line to be passed through the window to me so I could attack the fire. First, I called out to a firefighter who had just arrived in the alley, followed by a radio call to the chief. Another firefighter had climbed the ladder and was waiting with a line to be charged before entering to assist me. This tactic, although unorthodox, would have probably worked if the line had been charged, but water never came.

The fire began to burn through the top of the bedroom door, but I assumed water was on the way. I remained in my position, inside the building, at the window where the ladder, the firefighter and the uncharged line were. I waited near the window so I wouldn't lose my bearings.

The line was delivered to me very quickly, prior to the door beginning to fail. The time it took for it to be charged resulted in the door burning through and the fire extending into the room that I was in. It should also be noted that I called by radio and shouted out the window, several times, for water, with negative results. The post-incident analysis found that some confusion around the first-due engine caused the water delay.

The flames began to roll over my head, and I decided that it was clearly time to leave. In my haste to get out, I missed the ladder and fell to the ground, fracturing a rib. As I hit the ground, I looked up to see the room flash over and fire blow out of the window that I had just exited. The time frame between bailing out and the flashover was seconds. This entire scenario occurred in less than 10 minutes from the time of dispatch. At no time while I was in the structure did I feel excessive heat. The only indication of impending flashover was visual. I saw the rollover coming across the ceiling, just before I bailed out.

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