Close Calls: Multiple Challenges –Then a Firefighter Trapped

“One civilian fatality, seven firefighters injured, Mayday and the rescue of a lost, unconscious firefighter, complete building loss...” Firefighters in Oconomowoc, WI, are breathing a sigh of relief after a close call as one of their own narrowly...


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“One civilian fatality, seven firefighters injured, Mayday and the rescue of a lost, unconscious firefighter, complete building loss...” Firefighters in Oconomowoc, WI, are breathing a sigh of relief after a close call as one of their own narrowly escaped a fire with his life.

On Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 12:54 P.M., the Oconomowoc Fire Department (OFD) was dispatched for a report of a structure fire with victims trapped in the second-floor apartment at 112 North Main St. The weather was sunny and clear with a temperature of 89 degrees and a heat index of 94 degrees.

Oconomowoc is in Waukesha County in southeastern Wisconsin. The department protects a fire and EMS service area of 22 square miles with a population of 21,809 and an additional EMS area of nine square miles and 3,261 population; the area covered totals 31 square miles and a population of 25,070. The membership consists of 52 paid-on-call members and six full-time personnel (Monday to Friday, 8 A.M. to 4 P.M.) that includes a deputy chief, a lieutenant and four firefighter/paramedics.

OFD apparatus includes two engines, one 100-foot aerial platform, two ambulances, one grass rig, one command unit, two support units, a dive van and boat, one light rescue (rapid intervention crew vehicle) and one water tender. In 2011, the OFD responded to 384 fire calls and 1,428 EMS calls.

For their submission, participation and cooperation in this column, I thank all the members of the OFD, especially Lieutenant Mike LaVenture, who was the trapped firefighter, and Firefighters Kevin Jezak and Bob Diehn, who made entry to assist the lieutenant. Further thanks to Firefighter/Paramedic Adam May, Deputy Chief Glenn Leidel, Public Safety Director David Beguhn and the entire Western Waukesha Rapid Intervention Crew. Thanks also to the numerous fire departments, rehab units, EMS, law enforcement, strike teams and related agencies that responded to this fire – unfortunately space restricts us from listing all of them. Additionally, a special thanks to all the members and the leadership of the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) and its CEO, Chief Jay Reardon, for the “mutual aid” assistance in this column as well.

 

Initial response,

size-up and operations

A typical two-story, ordinary-construction, taxpayer-type building, 112 North Main St. consists of an office with a small kitchen on the first floor and two apartments on the second floor. It is mid-block with other similarly constructed buildings attached to it. It was built in the late 1800s with several remodels throughout the years. Each floor measures approximately 1,500 square feet.

At that time of dispatch, the senior fire officer, Deputy Chief Glenn Leidel, was two blocks away at his local church. While responding, he initiated a MABAS box to the first-alarm level within minutes of the initial tone. He did this due to radio traffic and visible smoke prior to arrival.

On arrival, while driving past the A side of the building, Leidel noted civilians attempting to rescue a victim from a second-story window using a ladder, as the stairwell was involved in fire. He drove to the back of the building to attempt to complete his 360-degree walk-around. On side C he found a large body of fire on the exterior of the building extending to two cars and an attached exposure building on side D.

Initial radio traffic between Leidel and the first officer at the fire station was to respond with the aerial platform first. Ladder 4771 responded in five minutes and was on scene in seven minutes. Leidel ordered the apparatus to park on East Wisconsin Avenue. No other radio traffic was heard by the lieutenant as to the incident action plan (IAP).

The crew of Ladder 4771 was bombarded by civilians screaming, crying and asking the firefighters to go around the block to the front of the building. The lieutenant made the decision for the crew to take a 24-foot ground ladder to the front of the building to take over the civilian rescue. From where they had parked, the crew had to walk approximately 300 feet to the front of the building. Since the ladder crew walked around side A to attempt rescue, the deputy chief pulled a three-inch handline and attempted a “blitz” attack on side C with the 200 gallons of tank water.

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