With Nothing Showing Initially... Part 1

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, at 10:01 A.M., the Mantua Township Fire District (MTFD) in New Jersey was dispatched to a dwelling fire with people reported trapped. While units were enroute, they were told by Gloucester County Communications that a woman was on the phone and reported being trapped in the house.

The chief forced a door, performed a quick search and found the woman in the rear bedroom. Conditions worsened and a lieutenant entered the room to help. Just then, the entire room flashed over, forcing the firefighters to self-extricate. The trapped woman was quickly extricated by other firefighters.

The MTFD is a combination department in Gloucester County. It consists of three engines, one rescue, one tender, one brush truck, one utility and three command vehicles responding out of two stations. There are six line officers – the chief, deputy chief, two captains and two lieutenants – and 43 active members and two full-time career personnel. Mantua Township is a 19.1-square-mile town with 15,963 residents.

The MTFD was formed in 2005 by voter approval. Five commissioners are elected to govern and provide finances from the tax base to support operations. The commission appoints a chief of department and deputy chief of operations, and the chief of department fills the other operation officer positions in the command structure.

The first-alarm assignment on Feb. 7 included MTFD Chief 2201 (Chief Brian Hauss), Engines 2212 and 2213, Rescue 2218 and Fire Marshal FM 22 (Nic Lamana), who was the engineer of Engine 2213, the second-due apparatus, and who took command upon his arrival. Pitman Fire Company No. 1 Ladder 2816 and Engine 2832 also were on the initial dispatch to the incident and the Woodbury (Ladder 516) and Washington Township (Rescue 1038) fire departments were dispatched as rapid intervention companies.

Our sincere appreciation to Chief Hauss, Lieutenant Michael Craft and all members and officers of the MTFD for their interest in sharing this close call. Additional thanks go to the Pitman, Woodbury and Washington Township departments, Gloucester County EMS and the Gloucester County Office of Emergency Response Fire/EMS Dispatchers. Special thanks also go out to the Mantua Police Department and the doctors and nurses at the Crozer-Chester Medical Center Burn Unit in Delaware County, PA, for their phenomenal assistance.

 

This account is by Chief Brian Hauss, who suffered serious burns during his attempts to perform the rescue, with details provided by Lieutenant Michael Craft:

I live less than a quarter-mile away from the incident. I responded in my command unit and arrived within one minute. While responding, I was told by Communications that they were on the phone with a female who was advising that she was trapped in the rear of the house. During this time, the first engine responded with a crew of five from our Union Avenue firehouse approximately five miles from the fire.

Upon arrival, I found a 40-by-12-foot mobile home; however, nothing was showing. I then performed a quick 360 where I located a female victim hanging out the rear window of the residence. I also observed light smoke inside the dwelling. I advised by radio that I had a smoke condition from the rear of the dwelling and that I would be forcing the door to attempt a rescue.

I returned to my command vehicle and donned my personal protective equipment (PPE) – turnout gear, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), hood and helmet. I forced the locked door with my halligan tool and performed a quick primary search of the residence to confirm that no one else was trapped. Fortunately, I had responded to that location on the previous Thursday in my full-time job as a police officer for a domestic call and was familiar with the layout of the dwelling.

While performing the search, there was slight smoke with no visible fire. I easily navigated the interior of the dwelling and quickly located the female. Immediately upon locating her in the rear bedroom, I attempted to push her out the rear window; however, the window was too small and the victim, who weighed approximately 220 pounds, was unable to cooperate.

The woman became extremely combative, so I moved behind her in an attempt to pull her from the room to the front door. While attempting to make the rescue as well as control the victim, I fell and became slightly disoriented. I was unable to make any further radio transmissions because I was struggling with the woman. At that exact moment, a mattress and numerous other contents in the room caught fire and conditions deteriorated drastically.

Now that the fire was behind me, I tried again to remove the victim through the window, but she still could not cooperate. I then had the police chief, who was outside, pull the whole window out of the sill and widen the window. I was in the dwelling alone for three or four minutes until the first-due engine company arrived. While I was attempting to remove the victim, Lieutenant Michael Craft, who arrived on Engine 2212 as one of the four crew members, entered the residence and attempted to help me remove the victim. We both tried one last time to force the victim through the window; however, we were unsuccessful, at which time the room flashed. Craft and I remained in the room for too long and we both began to burn up. We self-extricated through the window. I was told I was on fire at this point, but I don’t recall.

It should be noted that upon the arrival of Engine 2212, the crew did not know we had a working fire due to my report of nothing showing. It wasn’t until they arrived that they saw smoke and stretched a single 1¾-inch handline. Because they did not know of any fire condition, a water supply was not established until the arrival of Engine 2213 about two minutes later. Engine 2212’s officer and a crew member stretched the line, but never made the fire room while I was inside.

When I self-extricated from the window, I was found on the Charlie Division back lawn by Chief of Police Rodney Sawyer and the engineer of Engine 2212 (career Firefighter Sam Valora), who was ventilating the rear of the dwelling. They both said that when I came out of the residence I was smoking and had burning particles from inside of the residence on my SCBA, leg and boots.

Immediately upon exiting the rear of the dwelling. I was turned over to members of the Gloucester County EMS (basic life support, BLS) and pulled to the front lawn. A BLS and advanced life support (ALS) unit each were initially dispatched due to reports of entrapment, but the ALS unit did not arrive until just before I was loaded into the ambulance.

Once out of the dwelling, Craft and I were cared for by members of the Gloucester County EMS, BLS 82-65, and transported to Cooper Medical Center with third-degree facial burns. The woman was quickly extricated by the crew from our engine companies 2212 and 2213 as well as our mutual aid companies from neighboring Pitman 2816 and 2832. Crews had to cut the exterior wall to remove the victim, who was quickly turned over to EMS and transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center with burns to 80% of her body. During the rescue, crews made a quick knock on the fire and held it to the room of origin, which was the victim’s bedroom and where she was located.

I did not realize that I was seriously injured until I was in the rear of the ambulance and had my turnout pants cut off of me. I could see Craft next to me with skin hanging off of his hand and ears, knowing that I was in worse condition because I was the one on the stretcher.

After being transported to Cooper, I was transferred to Crozer-Chester Medical Center with third-degree burns to my ears and second-degree burns on my right leg. Craft was released from Cooper with second-degree burns to his right ear and right hand that he sustained while struggling with the woman, which caused him to lose his right glove in the fire.

Craft said that upon his arrival, he did not know I was inside the residence alone until advised by an EMT on scene. He said that when he made entry into the residence the room I was in was well involved; however, he could hear me struggling with the woman in the room and attempted to assist me.

Craft said that immediately upon entering the room, he saw it flash. He tried to help push the victim one more time and he jumped out of the room. He said he did not know if I had exited, but human nature took over and he had to get out of the room. Once he was outside, he saw that I was being treated by EMS. He walked directly to the ambulance and we were both transported to Cooper Medical Center. Just like me, Craft was physically, tactically and mentally prepared for an incident such as this and has not had any issues with anything that took place.

Next: Lessons learned and reinforced.

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