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
"THEY DON'T KNOW I'M IN HERE!"
The story I am about to tell about my own "close call" could have happened in any city, in any department, and to ANY firefighter or fire officer. The lessons that I learned and the memory of this fire will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I had just received my promotion to lieutenant and was eager to accept my new challenge as an officer. Due to a special event in our community, we had staffed all our companies with an extra man, so I had a four-man engine company that day. My acting captain was another lieutenant who had been promoted at the same time as me. A problem that day was that my radio wasn't working.
Later that night, a report of a structure fire with possible entrapment came in for other companies located just outside our district. When the first company arrived, the fire had already started to consume the second floor and the attic. With entrapment confirmed, my company was called. Needless to say, we were all "pumped" with adrenaline.
On our arrival, I jumped from the cab and ran to the front, masked up and climbed a ladder to the front porch roof, where two teams had entered two front windows. The heat was intense and another man came bailing out one of the windows with his helmet blackened and burnt. I grabbed him to make sure he got to the ladder and didn't fall off the porch roof.
I entered to find a hose team in steam and high heat trying to make headway. I thought to myself, "I'll search this room," but found nothing except the entrance to another room. Thinking, "I'm an officer, I have to do something and I can do it without help," I entered the next room, the living room, where steam was being put off by the padding in the furniture. It was so bad that I almost couldn't stand it.
All of a sudden, the heat and steam was gone, it had vented itself! OK, now I looked back to see the hose team still there and I decided, "One more room. It's not that far from them." It was the kitchen and revealed no results. I thought, "Another doorway into a hall." I had to be getting closer and still not that far away from my hose team. I crossed the hallway into another room, where I found two children face down with a window broken out where they had tried to call for help. I turned around to look toward the way I came for a means to get them out and get help moving them, but all I saw was fire! My way was blocked.
The next sound is one I'll never forget...AIR HORNS blowing long and loud! "Oh my God!" I thought, "The hose teams have evacuated! They don't know I'm in here! I'm trapped with these two unconscious children! Am I gonna die up here with them? Dear Lord, help us.
Don't let this happen to us and our families. Is this it? Is this how I go?"
I had checked both kids for breathing and there was nothing. I looked at the other window to see nothing but fire on the other side of the smoked glass. I leaned out the broken window to see two firefighters coming around the corner of the house.