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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Simply put, when there is a verbal report of a building fire to a dispatcher, the department should send what may be needed (what matches that type of building and life risk) with the assumption that it will be a fire, before it has to be confirmed by arriving units. This fire did not have a response plan that matched the potential fire risks or the conditions that the firefighters encountered upon arrival.

 

Initial on-scene actions

Policy should be established that requires a 360-degree size-up prior to conducting interior, offensive operations. Incident commanders must understand that while certainly committed to saving lives, they are also equally responsible to protect the lives of the firefighters under their command. This fire was not effectively sized-up until after the fireground emergency.

We cannot emphasize enough the critical importance of establishing command by the first-arriving officer and communicating (and leading) the strategy to responding or on-scene units. An initial radio report should include relevant information (fire/life conditions, actions, needs, etc.), a strategy statement and direction so that units and personnel understand what they are to do and what they are not to do. It is also important that all Calvert County companies/departments follow the same procedure for initial actions as the volunteer departments, to their credit, operate as one countywide fire system when responding. Responding units to this fire did not have a clear understanding of the fire conditions and the tactical strategies.

 

Incident command

and accountability

More and more departments understand the proven need for command support roles by trained and qualified officers responding on the first-alarm assignment. Roles such as command, command-support aide, accountability, rear (Charlie) division, rapid intervention team supervisor and safety officer should be performed by command level officers arriving separate from the apparatus. Officers riding on apparatus are just that, company officers, and should be part of that unit during operations. If an officer on apparatus is “pulled” to provide one of the above roles, that unit or company loses that supervision

The county does have a volunteer “duty officer” response plan that sends an extra chief on building fires, but it is based on availability and does not ensure the response of other chiefs to ensure adequate command leadership and support. This fire did not have an adequate number of responding command-level support officers to assist the incident commander.

 

Water supply

One of the greatest challenges firefighters can be faced with is operating in developed areas that do not have adequate municipal water supply. While new construction should not be permitted without a municipal water supply system, the reality is that it happens all over the U.S. and Canada. If there is no requirement for municipal water, then a plan to ensure adequate water to fight fires must be developed.

One solution is to require fire sprinkler systems in all future built structures. However, since buildings already exist in numerous non-hydrant areas in Calvert County, we recommended that they seek out a subject matter expert to be contracted to conduct a rural water supply evaluation and develop a plan in cooperation with county departments and companies. The plan should include a requirement to analyze the current resources, develop training for Calvert County firefighters in rural water supply, implement upgrades to all apparatus supply hose to LDH and the development of additional rural water supply sites. This fire did not have an adequate water supply.

 

Common policies and procedures

The volunteer fire and rescue companies in Calvert County are understandably very proud of and dedicated to their organizations. One of the challenges when multiple volunteer fire and rescue companies operate on one incident scene is the independent policies, procedures and equipment specific to each organization. These may conflict and can interfere with what is best for the firefighters and the communities they serve. In some cases where firefighters also work or serve in other jurisdictions, learned strategies, tactics and procedures from that jurisdiction may conflict with what is appropriate for operations in Calvert County.