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This is the second of two columns about a close call experienced by members of the Mantua Township Fire District (MTFD) in New Jersey on Feb. 7, 2012 (part one was in the January issue). Part one featured an account by Chief Brian Hauss, who suffered serious burns during his attempts to perform a rescue at a dwelling fire, with details provided by Lieutenant Michael Craft. Part two features a further discussion with Chief Hauss and the lessons learned from this close call.
Discussion and lessons learned following the fire from Chief Hauss in discussions with Chief Goldfeder:
I was very familiar with the pre-indicators to a possible flashover and saw the flashover occur before my eyes. The mistake I made was instead of staying low and worrying about self preservation, I was doing my all to force the female out of the window, which was in fact a ventilation hole at the time and the easiest source of oxygen for the fire. This exposed me to direct flame for an extended period.
A lesson was learned not to go into any IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) atmosphere, especially a working house fire, by myself without sufficient manpower on the outside; however, when a civilian is trapped, I cannot say that I would not do the same again to ensure life safety. I feel I could have saved the victim’s life if she would have cooperated or been unconscious.
• Protective clothing and equipment – Never fail to wear any and all personal protective equipment (PPE), including a hood, a properly donned self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and your turnout gear. If I had not properly donned my turnout gear, I would most likely still be undergoing surgeries and evaluations for my burns. My gear saved my life.
A fire department’s bunker gear spec is imperative. Our gear has the “heat shields” sewn into the inner layer of the jacket and pants, which on my coat and pants showed extreme discoloration, but it did its job in keeping me safe.
Another lesson reinforced is basic firefighter knowledge of staying low and attempting to exit the way you entered. But most critically, wear your gear with no exposed skin...ever! Following this incident, every member of our department was re-instructed on the proper use, donning and care of their PPE.
• The rescue attempt – This is our job. Whether you are the chief or a probationary firefighter, this is what we all signed up for and what we should all prepare for on a regular basis, both tactically and mentally. I have always been tactically prepared to do the job and fortunately, when I was in “Condition Black,” my training and self-preservation took over and I escaped a deadly situation without even thinking about it.
When I exited the dwelling and the victim did not, I had a slight mental breakdown, feeling as if I had failed. Due to years of experience, training and mental preparation, however, I knew I did all I could to make someone’s chances better.
• Command and control – Our policy for response is that the chief and/or duty officer has the ability to respond to the scene of the incident and upon arrival is supposed to assume command of the scene. In the event that the incident commander is needed to go into service to supplement an understaffed engine crew, the engineer of the first-due engine company is to assume command. One of our major flaws was that once I went to attempt the rescue, nobody assumed command of the scene. Our first-due engine company was staffed with a crew of four and the officer of the truck as well as one crew member stretched a line while Lieutenant Craft entered the residence to assist me.
With three of the four members in service, the engineer should have assumed command to direct incoming apparatus. This was not done due to other needed tasks being performed, which allowed for command, control and accountability gaps on scene until Fire Marshal Lamana arrived and assumed command. With this in mind, a new policy was developed related to limited-staffing operations.