Firefighter trapped in Dive Team Emergency

Performing other than fire-related rescues is nothing new for the fire service. From a child’s head caught in a banister to a person trapped in heavy machinery, a firefighter literally never knows what the next run will be. Because of that, we have an...


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Performing other than fire-related rescues is nothing new for the fire service. From a child’s head caught in a banister to a person trapped in heavy machinery, a firefighter literally never knows what the next run will be. Because of that, we have an obligation to be prepared and have the predictably needed resources (ours or through a pre-planned mutual response) ready to handle the emergency, no matter what the emergency may be.

Every fire department has the opportunity to pre-plan and prepare before “the run” comes in. Look around your first-due response area. High rises? Subways? Railroads? Rural areas without water? Mega McMansions with lightweight construction? Tank farms? Interstate highways? Acme Dynamite Manufacturing? Look around.

It’s no secret that’s how you determine what you will eventually respond to. As Frank Brannigan told us, “Know your enemy,” and the building is what he was referring to. In this case, know whatever you may have to respond to – and know it well. Pre-plan and train, train, train. Rarely should we be surprised to respond on any run when that potential has been right under our noses for years. We have an obligation to those we serve and to each other.

Department overview

Knowing what it protects and being prepared is a well-known hallmark of the Baltimore City, MD, Fire Department. As an overview, Baltimore, an independent political jurisdiction not located in a county, is the largest city in Maryland and the cultural center of the state. The city is in central Maryland along the Patapsco River, which feeds into Chesapeake Bay. The harbor is now home to Harborplace, a shopping, entertainment and tourist center, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The population of Baltimore City is more than 636,000. The city has a total area of 92.1 square miles, of which 80.8 square miles is land and 11.3 square miles is water.

The Baltimore City Fire Department has more than 1,800 members who are divided into two management branches – Emergency Operations and Planning and Administration. The department responds to more than 235,000 emergency 911 calls per year.

The assistant chief of operations oversees the work of four deputy chief/shift commanders and the EMS deputy chief. Operations personnel work out of 38 neighborhood fire stations. These stations house about 100 firefighting, emergency medical and special operations companies. These units include 35 engine companies, 18 ladder companies, 24 first-line medic units, four critical alert medic units, four rescue squad/pumpers and a heavy rescue as well as specialty units such as hazmat trucks, dive rescue unit, collapse rescue vehicles, mobile command vehicles and various fireboats. The department is divided into six suppression battalions and one EMS battalion, on four shifts. The work schedule is comprised of two 10-hour days and two 14-hour nights followed by four days off.

While being one of the best-trained and best-prepared fire departments, things can go wrong – and that’s the subject of this two-part close call. In this case, we have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the Baltimore City Fire Department. Our sincere thanks to Chief of Department James Clack along with the entire investigative team, officers and members of the Baltimore City Fire Department. This close call also provides us with insight on how the team was established by the chief, its direction and the process followed in determining what happened and preventing it from happening again. This two-part column also will include significant in-depth background information that is valuable to any reader, but specifically important for those departments that have the potential for water rescue responses. As usual, this close call provides loads of valuable information that the Baltimore City FD can learn from – but just as (or even more) important, we all can learn from their experience.

The following information is provided by Chief of Department James Clack of the Baltimore City Fire Department:

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