Close Calls: Firefighters Burned In Mega-Mansion Fire

This is the conclusion of a two-part report on operations at a March 19, 2011, house fire in Huntingtown, MD, at which 10 firefighters were injured, including four who received significant burns. Fire and rescue personnel from the Huntingtown Volunteer...


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This is the conclusion of a two-part report on operations at a March 19, 2011, house fire in Huntingtown, MD, at which 10 firefighters were injured, including four who received significant burns. Fire and rescue personnel from the Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) responded along with other departments from throughout Calvert County and numerous mutual aid departments from Anne Arundel, Charles and Prince George’s counties.

As we reported in part one (September 2012), about 15 minutes after interior firefighting operations were begun, conditions on the second floor deteriorated rapidly as the main body of heavy fire in the attic and void spaces dropped down on firefighters. This forced an emergency evacuation of the second floor.

Given the severity of the injuries and magnitude of the event, Chief William Goldfeder was asked by HVFD Chief Jonathan Riffe to assemble an independent investigative team to critically review the incident so others can learn about what happened there and how to prevent injuries in the future. 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 was chairman of the investigative team. The team was assisted with logistics by James W. Richardson, coordinator, and Katie Hanko, both from the Fire-Rescue-EMS Division of the Calvert County Department of Public Safety. Particular thanks to Captain Justin Green, who served as the scribe and the architect of the document as the report was being developed.

As we stated in part one, 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 column continues a synopsis of the investigative report.

 

First-arriving units

Chief 6C, the first fire department unit to arrive on scene, based his decision to enter the house on information relayed from Calvert Communications that “(the caller is) advising the fire’s now spread to his attic” and the occupant, who arrived at the vehicle and mentioned that someone was still inside. As the first-arriving unit on scene, Chief 6C (who reported “heavy smoke from the attic area, working fire”) had the opportunity to establish command, formulate an Incident Action Plan (IAP) and communicate a strategy to incoming units. Instead, Chief 6C asked Chief 6A to take command upon arrival.

Engine 6-2, the first suppression unit to arrive on scene, reported, “6-2 laying out at the end of the driveway, gravel portion.”

Chief 6C: “I do not have an all clear, I’m going in.”

Chief 6A: “I copy.”

Chief 6C exited the vehicle and met the lieutenant, who had arrived before Chief 6C, at the rear of the vehicle where they both donned their personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) carried in Chief 6C’s vehicle. Once equipped, they both entered the home via the front door on side Alpha. Chief 6C entered the open door and traveled across the foyer where the stairs to the second floor were visible. Chief 6C reported seeing a haze on the first floor, while light smoke was visible at the ceiling level of the second floor when looking up the stairwell. The lieutenant remained in the foyer while Chief 6C accessed the two-story great room to the rear of the home where he found the fireplace. No fire or signs of fire were visible around the fireplace.

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