COVER STORY: Close Call at Roof Operation

PAWTUCKET, RI, JAN. 6, 2012 – Three engines, two ladders and a rescue responded to a late-morning report of a house fire. First-arriving Engine 1 reported smoke showing and gave a “Code Red” – the signal for a working fire. The fire was on the top floor of an occupied 2½-story dwelling.


As lines were being stretched, ladder company members started an interior search for occupants. Command requested Ladder 1 to begin vertical ventilation. The aerial ladder was positioned on the D side and raised to a dormer to the C side. The members walked across the roof ridge to the point where they cut a ventilation hole. Black smoke was churning from the hole, but there was no visible fire. Firefighters on the top floor reported heavy smoke and severe heat, but no visible fire.

As the firefighters on the roof made their way back to their aerial, they realized they were cut off by spreading fire. Ladder 2’s aerial was on the B side and the firefighters would have to pass the vent hole they had cut to get to Ladder 2. Firefighters on the ground, observing what was happening on the roof, were raising a ground ladder.

The section of roof on which the firefighters were standing burned through, sending one member tumbling down the pitched roof. In a desperate fight for his life, the firefighter was able to stop his fall about one foot from the edge. Upon seeing that occur, his officer immediately made an effort to assist the firefighter, but he too fell through the burned section and became trapped by what was left of that area of the roof. Surrounded by intense heat and smoke, the officer was now in a battle for his own life and struggled to extricate himself from the hole. The officer remained calm and removed himself from the hole. Realizing that they had to get off the roof as soon as possible, the firefighters made their way to the B side and down Ladder 2. Both firefighters were checked and removed to the hospital for burns and other injuries. Units inside were withdrawn and a defensive attack was started. The fire was controlled in one hour.

—Harvey Eisner