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...

When a female occupant “walked up from the downstairs, she heard a ‘popping noise’ coming from the upstairs fireplace.” Upon entering the great room on the first floor, she observed smoke coming from the fireplace area, leading her to, at first, believe that another occupant had also started a fire in the first-floor fireplace. Upon investigation, the female occupant and another occupant discovered that there appeared to be a fire in the chimney. Concurrent with this discovery, the smoke alarms in the house began to sound. The female occupant alerted other occupants, who called 911.

The caller reported seeing “flames and smoke…in the chimney.” Answering questions from the call taker, the caller detailed that it was a “built-in chimney” and that there were “two floors.” Additionally, the caller reported that “no one (is) trapped.” Further questioning of the caller detailed that the fire was on “the first floor, through the chimney.” After giving the caller instructions to leave the house and not try to fight the fire, the caller replied, “Yes, I’m trying to put it out.”

23:58:26 – Calvert County Communications announced, “Area Box 601, 3380 Soper Road for chimney fire,” and dispatched Engine 6, Squad 6, Engine Company 2, 5, 1, Tanker 5, Tanker 7, Tower 2, Ambulance 6 and the North Duty Chief.

23:59:22 – After a second announcement, Engine 2-1, Chief 5B, Tower 2, Engine 6-2 and Chief 6C marked responding to the Soper Road location. Chief 6C is the fourth-ranking chief officer in HVFD, behind Chief 6, Chief 6A and Chief 6B. Chief 6C was at home when the incident was dispatched and responded directly to the scene with a marked chief’s vehicle.

00:00:45 – Responding units switched to a tactical channel, Tac 1, and were updated with information that the caller “had flames coming from his chimney...he was attempting to put the fire out himself.” Chief 6C was then updated with the same information.

00:01:56 – Responding units were updated with directions to “go almost all the way to the end of the driveway. It’s going to be a long gravel driveway, lined by trees on your left hand side, sits very far…very far distance off the road.”

00:03:35 – An occupant again calls to report the chimney fire. When asked by the call taker about what has changed since the first call, the caller responded with “the chimney is fully engulfed from the inside out. It’s in the attic now.” After asking again, the caller confirmed that everyone was out of the house.

00:04:10 – Calvert Communications informs Chief 6A that, “(the caller is) advising the fire’s now spread to his attic.” Chief 6A acknowledges the information and asks, “Chief 6A is OK, (Chief) 6C should be there in just a few minutes.” Chief 6C: “I’m turning on Soper now.”

A lieutenant from HVFD, who lived approximately a mile away, responded directly to the scene by personal vehicle. The lieutenant did not have a portable radio as it is a general procedure for HVFD that only captains and above carry portable radios. The lieutenant arrived on scene a few minutes prior to the arrival of Chief 6C.

Upon approaching the home, the lieutenant did not notice any smoke or fire visible from side Alpha. The lieutenant arrived at the home and positioned to the right side of the driveway in a grassy area. Upon exiting the vehicle, the lieutenant met a female occupant of the home who said that the chimney was on fire, another occupant was attempting to put the fire out and that there was an older male occupant in the basement who was not going to leave. The lieutenant questioned the female occupant to ensure the occupant in the basement was physically able to get out of the home. The lieutenant then walked inside the home, through the foyer and the great room to a door in the rear of the home to access the rear deck.

While transiting the great room, there was a slight haze of smoke, but the lieutenant could not localize it to a source such as the fireplace. On the back deck the lieutenant encountered another occupant who was using a garden hose in an attempt to put out fire in the chimney. When asked to stop, the occupant pointed to eaves and the lieutenant saw fire that had broken out of the chimney and was involved in the eaves and gutter area. The lieutenant then walked back through the great room, where the haze was still observed. The lieutenant then exited the home on side Alpha to await Chief 6C.

Chief 6C was the first fire department unit to arrive on scene.