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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Before Ladder 4771 laddered the window on side A, a civilian ladder was placed and a bystander climbed it. He assisted with the rescue of the first trapped person, who made it out the widow by falling into the arms of a police officer and several bystanders. The civilian was then attempting to rescue the still conscious second and last victim. As Ladder 4771’s crew laddered the window and removed the civilian rescuer, they saw the victim take a breath and fall backwards into the smoke-filled room.

Two firefighters and the lieutenant climbed the ladder and entered the room through the already-broken window. They did not have the protection of a hoseline and, while searching, experienced high heat and zero-visibility smoke. They immediately found the victim since she was just a few feet into the room. They moved her to the window sill and one firefighter exited onto the ladder to extricate her. The crew was unable to transfer the victim to the ladder due to her being obese and wet from blood and sweat and because the window sill was taller than average.

At this time, an interior firefighter’s low-air alarm sounded and he exited. He was replaced by a firefighter from the second-arriving engine. The lieutenant stayed in the building with the victim. They too were unable to extricate the victim through the window. A new plan was made by the interior firefighter and lieutenant to attempt to drag the patient to the rear exit stairwell. The firefighter confirmed that the path was clear of fire and placed a one-inch nylon strap over the victim’s torso. The lieutenant and firefighter then began dragging the victim to the rear stairwell, on side C of the building.

 

During the attempted rescue,

a fire officer becomes trapped

During the second attempt at removal of the victim, a dramatic life-changing event occurred. The interior crew experienced horrific high heat and the strap around the victim slipped off, causing the firefighter and the lieutenant to fall in opposite directions. They became separated and confused as to where they were in the building, but each had a portable radio. The firefighter made his way back to the A-side window and exited, thinking the lieutenant was right behind him. He was not. The firefighter stayed by the window, banging on the wall and floor and calling out for the lieutenant with no response.

The lieutenant, now alone inside the kitchen, attempted to extricate himself several times. Still experiencing high heat and zero visibility, he again located the victim. Knowing which way she was orientated and the direction toward the exit window, he found her feet and attempted to proceed to the window. While doing this, however, his low-air alarm sounded and he knew he was in trouble. After several attempts to find the window, the lieutenant realized he needed help and called a Mayday on his radio. After transmitting the Mayday, he found a small room, shut the door, hunkered down and waited to be rescued. He eventually ran out of air, so he pulled his hood up over his nose and mouth in an attempt to reduce breathing in the smoke. While awaiting the rescue, he eventually slipped into unconsciousness.

The Mayday was heard the first time by command (the deputy chief). While the dispatchers do not monitor the fireground, the deputy chief repeated the emergency on the dispatch channel. The rapid intervention crew (RIC) was just arriving on scene with its initial light-duty rescue truck staffed with three firefighters. The RIC that made entry was pieced together from other RIC members who came on Oconomowoc apparatus and who are RIC trained. At this point, the RIC had not yet sized-up the fire or set up its equipment. The RIC was quickly placed into service and made entry through the A-side, second-floor window.

The RIC for all Oconomowoc calls is comprised of firefighters from the Dousman, Lake Country, Oconomowoc and Stone Bank fire departments. These departments make up a team called the Western Waukesha Rapid Intervention Crew (WWR). Each department has 10 to 15 members who train together once a month as a team. When called to working fires, these members operate only as a RIC.