Firefighters Burned In Mega-Mansion Fire

For years, fire departments were simply reactive response organizations that went out when “the bell” rang. We took the same amount of equipment and number of people to every run, no matter how different the buildings were. While most departments...

During the course of the incident, 10 personnel were injured. Of those injured, four firefighters received significant burn injuries. In the history of the Calvert County Fire/Rescue/EMS service, there had never been a fire of this magnitude resulting in so many injuries, including two life-threatening. In past years, fire departments would internally review firefighter injuries and accidents.

Given the severity of the injuries and magnitude of the event, as chief of HVFD, I contacted Chief William Goldfeder to request that an independent investigative team be assembled to critically review the incident. I reached out to him specifically because of his well-known and respected expertise in the field of firefighter risk mitigation, safety and survival in suburban and rural settings, particularly involving combination and volunteer fire departments. After we discussed the incident, I requested that his team prepare an honest and open report so that I, my members, other Calvert County departments and others elsewhere can learn about what happened at this incident and how to prevent injuries in the future.

Chief Goldfeder assembled a diverse team that jointly and very clearly understood the local culture of the affected departments, but also offered experience, education, training and expertise on a much larger scale outside of the local culture. The team convened in multiple sessions to gather, analyze and prepare this report.

The team consisted of Assistant Chief Donald W. Heinbuch of the Baltimore City, MD, Fire Department; Division Chief Michael W. Robinson of the Baltimore County, MD, Fire Department; Chief Jonathan R. Starling of the Sterling Volunteer Fire Department in Loudoun County, VA; Chief William Corrigan of the College Park Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George’s County, MD; Captain Justin L. Green of the Loudoun County, VA, Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management; and Deputy Chief William Goldfeder of the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, who served as chairman of the investigative team. They were assisted with logistics by James W. Richardson, coordinator, and Katie Hanko, both from the Fire-Rescue-EMS Division of the Calvert County, MD, Department of Public Safety.

Each fire officer on the team has direct experience and a background with line-of-duty fire injuries as well as line-of-duty deaths in both rural and suburban/urban settings, allowing them to meet my goals and objectives. Particular thanks are due to Captain Justin Green, who served as the scribe and the architect of the document as the report was being developed. Because of his background as a seasoned fire officer as well as having a degree in architecture, his participation on this investigation was invaluable.

The investigative report contains the results of the team’s comprehensive review and analysis. All of the information presented is factual and, to the greatest extent possible, was validated by multiple sources prior to inclusion in this document. It is important to note that the investigative team had months to examine the incident, form conclusions and develop recommendations. In contrast, the first personnel to arrive on the scene had only seconds to make critical decisions and take action. This two-part column features a synopsis of that report.


The fire: initial actions

The home at 3380 Soper Road included 6,453 square feet of living space. It was located on a point of land that projects into the Patuxent River, accessed by an approximately 1,800-foot-long gravel driveway that was shared with a second address. The distance from the point where the driveway splits to the home is approximately 800 feet. At least four occupants were home at the time of incident, just prior to midnight, with an older male occupant residing in the basement “in-law” suite. This occupant was reported to have used the fireplace in the room adjacent to the bedroom extensively, almost on an around-the-clock basis. On the evening of the incident, the occupants had returned home from an outing around 9 P.M. when the older male occupant started a fire in the fireplace of the basement living area.