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This month, we continue our coverage of a close call in University Heights, OH (see part one in the March issue). Our thanks to University Heights Fire Chief David Rodney and Firefighters Paul Nees, Tom Hren and Doug Robinson for sharing their story. Additional thanks to the mutual aid fire departments, firefighters and regional communications center personnel for their assistance.
An overview of the first few minutes by Chief Rodney, with additional information by Chief Goldfeder and those involved in the incident (Rodney was a captain at the time of the fire and served as incident commander):
A flashover occurred as the firefighters were retreating. Firefighter Paul Nees was seriously burned before he could exit. Firefighters Doug Robinson and Tom Hren were also inside and pulled Nees out of the building to a safe area where he could receive medical attention.
University Heights, Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights share a joint dispatch system, Eastcom. The Eastcom dispatch center received the occupant’s 911 cell phone call at around 2 A.M. and dispatched a first alarm, since the standard operating procedure (SOP) governing an automatic upgrade to a second alarm was not met at the time of the initial call. When this incident occurred, the Eastcom SOP required an automatic upgrade to a second alarm whenever any of the following occurred:
• Multiple calls reporting a working fire (flames and/or heavy smoke showing
• Police confirmation of a working fire
• Report of victim(s) trapped
• A Mayday report from fire personnel
• Reporting party is uncertain all occupants have evacuated safely and/or is uncertain of an occupant(s) location
• Report of visible flames inside an occupied structure
• Report of visible heavy smoke inside a structure
• Any other reason a dispatcher deems necessary
• Officer in charge requests an upgrade
At the time of this incident, while the University Heights apparatus was responding, the dispatcher asked me (Chief Rodney), as the officer in charge, whether I wanted mutual aid apparatus to respond. I answered, “We’re almost there, I’ll advise you upon arrival.” Immediately upon arrival, I called for a second alarm. Since then, the Eastcom SOP was revised to include the following factor to trigger an automatic upgrade to a second alarm: “2300-0700 hours – Report of any visible smoke inside a structure.”
Due to a limit in the number of firefighters available (as the interior crew was attending to the downed firefighter) at this point in the operation, we reverted to a defensive attack, placing one handline on the B/C corner and another hand-line outside the front door. We also extended the aerial ladder and tip to a point near the front roof of the house.
When Shaker Heights Engine 216 arrived, we used them to hook up University Heights Engine 1121 to the hydrant and to pull another handline from 1121. Since our exterior attack crews were able to darken down the fire from outside and we now had enough people on the scene to resume an interior attack, we used 216 crew to advance a line to the first floor to knock down the fire throughout that level. When South Euclid Engine 311 arrived, we had them advance a second line from 1121 to attack the fire that had moved into the second floor and to pull ceiling to attack any fire in the attic area.
Meanwhile, two neighboring fire department EMS squads attended to the five residents who were in the home when the fire started and to the firefighter (Nees) who was most seriously injured. (The other two firefighters involved in the flashover, Hren and Robinson, received minor injuries. They declined medical attention and continued helping with firefighting efforts.)