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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On the way back toward the foyer, Chief 6C met an older occupant of the home who was carrying pictures from a den/office area. The occupant was instructed to exit and Chief 6C quickly checked the remainder of the first floor for occupants before returning to the foyer.

Engine 6-2 arrived on scene with five personnel. After laying out from a position in the driveway where the surface changed from asphalt to gravel, Engine 6-2 laid approximately 800 feet of three-inch supply line. Chief 6C reported that the engine company also stretched a 400-foot, 1¾-inch pre-connected attack line to the front door of the house.

00:09:36 – Chief 6C: “Alright, everybody’s out the house, (Chief 6A). We’re running the 400 right now.”

Chief 6A: “Alright, you’re reporting an all clear and you’re running the 400.”

Chief 6C: “Yeah, that’s right; we’re going to have heavy fire in the attic” and he requested hooks inside immediately.

Once the first floor was checked and no occupants were found, Chief 6C returned to the foyer and met with the lieutenant. As they were ascending the stairs to the second floor, Engine 6-2 arrived in the foyer. Engine 6-2 had stretched the 400-foot, 1¾-inch handline to the front door and proceeded, with the line dry, to the second floor. Upon entering the house, the crew reported there was no sign of smoke on the first floor. In the foyer, they found the stairwell to the second floor, which they ascended, and found light smoke at the ceiling level.

Once at the top of the stairs, Chief 6C checked the side-Delta area of the second floor and the lieutenant turned to the left and moved toward side Bravo over the garage where there was a “bonus room” (a multi-purpose room often found over a garage or in an attic). Chief 6C returned briefly to the top of the stairs and told Engine 6-2 that they “couldn’t find attic access and (they) would need to find a way in to the attic.”

Upon reaching the second floor, the unit supervisor of Engine 6-2 moved to the Bravo side of the house where the bonus room was over the garage. The intent was that firefighters were “going to go that way and work our way back.” In the bonus room, firefighters used pike poles to open inspection holes in the ceiling looking for fire. They did not find any signs of fire and firefighters moved from the Alpha and Bravo quadrants, across the open area and toward a bedroom on side Delta. At this point, the hoseline had still not been charged.

00:10:27 – Chief 6C: “Operations to Command.”

Chief 6A: “Go ahead, Chief.”

Chief 6C: “I’m doing my 360 right now. I got heavy fire on side Charlie.”

Chief 6A: “Alright, get inside with them guys, don’t worry about anything else, I will be there in about 30 seconds…get that place opened up. Squad 6, long hooks when you get there…copy, long hooks.”

At this point, a large number of firefighters were in the open area with most of them working to find the fire by hooking the ceiling. Several firefighters reported that there was little coordination or direction beyond “bring long hooks” and “hook the ceiling.” Units generally stayed together, but eventually spread around the open area. At this stage, numerous personnel were operating inside in an attempt to pull ceilings, find the best access to fire and attack.

 

The fire emergency

00:20:58 – Huntingtown Command (Chief 6A): “6C, I need an update right away, it’s not looking good (see Photo 1). About two more minutes and I’m pulling them out.” “(Inaudible)…officer to Command, I need a line to side Alpha.” Chief 6C: “6C to Command. Evacuate the building, evacuate the building, evacuate the building. Calvert, sound the evacuation tone immediately. All units…(covered by tones.)” At this point, firefighters begin emergency evacuation of the home.

Huntingtown Command reported seeing a flash of light across the large window in the second-floor open foyer concurrent with a rapid increase in fire and smoke issuing from the second floor. On the interior, firefighters operating in the bedroom and firefighters operating in the second-floor open area reported rapidly changing smoke conditions followed by a sudden spike in temperatures that quickly changed to fire progressing from the ceiling level to the floor (see Photo 2).