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.
My engine company responded one night as part of a first-alarm assignment. We were scheduled as first due to a townhouse, with multiple calls reporting a fire. Despite the late hour and light snow, we had heavy smoke visible several blocks away. As we pulled up in front of the building, smoke was pushing from everywhere in the townhouse. Heavy fire was visible coming over the roof line, venting from a rear window.
My engine company has a very small first-due response area, and we are accustomed to operating without ladder company support, since the closest ladder is 20 or so blocks away. One pipeman (me that night) acts to provide "truck support."
I grabbed the irons while the other pipeman and the lieutenant began to stretch a handline. The hydrant was close enough that the driver was handjacking to it alone. This scenario is very common for us and there was no real concern. Two more engines, two trucks, a squad, two battalion chiefs and a rescue were on their way, so no worries, right?
As I vented a window in the front, for some reason I got a concerned feeling, as if a "warning" was going off in my head. But was I really paying attention? The windows were all secured with iron burglar bars. Since this was a townhouse, the windows were normal height - but only 12 inches wide.
I proceeded to force the door and do a quick search in the front. Coming out, I told the other pipeman and lieutenant, now at the front door, that, "It's a straight shot down the hall to the right." The other nozzleman started moving down the hall. I joined them as backup man. The lieutenant was humping line at the door and directing incoming companies via the radio. The driver was out in the street. The hall ended with one room on the right and the other on the left. The room to the right was well involved with fire running out and down the hall at the ceiling. We opened the line and went to work.
The line kept the fire in the room of origin and I told the nozzleman I was going to search the room to the left. He nodded and I was off. The closet, the room, under the bed, then out was my plan. WRONG!
The fire had overpowered the line and my escape route was cut off by the fire. I had a terrible feeling, filled with emotion. I was then able to calm down, I got my bearings. I yelled to the nozzleman, but it didn't seem like he heard. So plan B…the windows, right? WRONG! There were two, but remember, they are only 12 inches wide. What to do? I still had the ax with me. I was going right through the wall. As I began to hit the wall next to the window, the fire in the door began to darken. I moved without waiting, back on the line and back to work.
The lessons I learned:
- Never panic. Stay calm through training and experience.
- Always have a radio or stay with someone who does.
- Always, always have a tool, because you never know when you might need to put plan C into action. I was fully prepared to breach that wall as a means of saving my life.
"IT AIN'T OVER ... TILL IT'S OVER"