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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Huntingtown Command: “Alright, standby with that real quick. Calvert, my safety officer is going to have the EMS sector on Tac 3, OK? He’s going to take care of that, he does need two helicopters.”

Calvert Communications: “OK.”

Duty Chief: “Alright Command, I’ve got two injured.”

Huntingtown Command: “Chief 6C, come in.”

Chief 6C: “Go ahead (6A).”

Huntingtown Command: “Alright, I need to know if everybody is out of this house immediately.”

Chief 6C: “I know this. As soon as I can get a line I’m going back to the second floor.”

Huntingtown Command: “Uh, I don’t think you can make that second floor, Chief, from where I’m standing. Get me an accountability, now.”

Chief 6C: “You’re going to have to call the individual officers, (6A). I don’t know who was in charge of 6-2. OK, Calvert. I’m going to have to bug you for one minute. Calvert, get me Engine 6-2’s officer.

Calvert Communications: “6-2.”

After no success, Engine 6-2’s driver/operator is asked, “Who was on your fire truck?” There was no recorded response and there is no further mention on TAC 1 regarding accountability of firefighters or EMS resources. The remainder of the radio traffic concerns logistics and suppression efforts to combat the remaining fire. Accountability of Engine 6-2 was accomplished through face-to-face communications. Injured firefighters were treated on-scene before transport to area and regional hospitals by both ground and air resources. Firefighters remained on-scene for several hours before the fire was fully extinguished.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

AND RECOMMENDATIONS

It was clear that following this fire, the incident would become a culture-altering event as the HVFD had committed to change so that it never experiences an event like this again. The request for an outside, independent review of this fire and actions taken since this event is indicative of that commitment. To be clear, the fire could have absolutely resulted in the line-of-duty death of one or more firefighters. The following are some of the recommendations based on the most significant issues at the fire.

 

Pre-incident information

There is a need to have pre-incident building information available to responding firefighters for a variety of situations, including residential structures. While time consuming, it is a part of any fire departments responsibility to know what it will potentially be dealing with before it must deal with it. In as much as a football team studies the other team before the game, firefighters must fully understand what they may encounter before hand as well. Capturing data and organizing information for ready reference by responding firefighters can greatly improve effectiveness of operations. In some cases, it can be done by recording details on specific buildings such as size, hazards and layout and in others, recording general neighborhood layouts with driveway lengths for hoselays and water-supply locations can be sufficient. Information can include anything a fire command officer and firefighters would want to know before a fire occurs. There was no pre-incident planning on this fire.

 

Dispatching and

resource allocation

There is a need to conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of dispatch procedures for all emergency incidents. This should include the dispatching of apparatus based on the pre-determined need and worst-case scenario. For example, if a building has a required fire flow of 2,000 gpm, then – especially in the non-hydrant areas – the first-alarm assignment should include the minimum amount of apparatus necessary to establish and maintain a minimum, uninterrupted and consistent water flow of 2,000 gpm. Additionally, the county should ensure that successive alarms are equal, in terms of resources, to the previous alarm and that the first alarm has resources that will allow numerous tasks to be conducted simultaneously based on water supply, construction type, square footage, access, staffing, etc.