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The initial alarm was for a possible structure fire on Chestnut Street with multiple callers reporting smoke. Pre-arrival size-up included the fact that Chestnut Street was approximately one-minute estimated time of arrival, daytime, dry conditions, residential street with mostly older colonial or Victorian-style single- or two-family homes. The initial dispatch included:
• Deputy fire chief – Command
• Engine 4 – First due with myself, driver and one tail ender (Firefighter Makos). Responsible for initial fire attack and/or rescue.
• Engine 5 – Second due with a two-man crew. Responsible for water supply to the first-due engine and backup line for fire attack and/or rescue.
• Platform – Third due with a two-man crew. Responsible for forcible entry, ventilation and rescue.
• Ambulance – Paramedic level.
While responding, we were advised that police were on scene with smoke showing. The deputy fire chief arrived and stated we had smoke showing with fire in the attic and requested another alarm. Two more engines were dispatched:
• Engine 3 – Captain with driver and one tail ender.
• Engine 2 – Two-man crew.
Additionally, mutual aid responded to cover stations.
Upon arrival, we noted a 2½-story, wood/balloon-frame colonial converted into a two-family home. Heavy smoke was showing from the attic, but there was no visible fire. The heaviest smoke was from the B/C corner and it unknown if the house was occupied.
We were directed by the incident commander (IC) to go to the attic. Access to the second floor was via an exterior stairway on the B side. Police were attempting to force the B-side door while we were advancing a 1¾-inch line up the stairway. As police had no success forcing entry, Firefighter Makos took over, forcing the door with his ax.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that the house was actually a marijuana grow house with approximately 350 plants in various stages of growth. The exterior door and several interior doors were reinforced with steel bars running across. After much effort, the door was forced and we advanced with a dry hoseline up the interior stairs to the second floor. Firefighter Makos was on the nozzle with myself directly behind. Tools included an ax, halligan and thermal imager. Upon entering the second floor, we encountered light smoke. We had good visibility through the living room on the D side to a kitchen to the C side. We found the door to the attic at the top of the stairs to the second floor on the B side.
When we opened the door, we encountered thick smoke. I reported my findings by radio and called for water. We advanced up the stairs to the attic with zero visibility. Upon entering the attic, we encountered high heat. I told Firefighter Makos not to advance farther into the attic due to the heat, while I used the thermal imager to help locate the seat of the fire. I noted high heat at the ceiling (peaked roof), but no visible fire and reported my findings to the IC and requested ventilation. I could hear the crew on the roof working directly above us.
A backup crew arrived behind us on the stairs. I instructed Firefighter Makos to cool the ceiling with some straight stream short blasts directed toward the C side, where it was likely the seat of the fire was. It was at this time that Firefighter Makos told me he was getting low on air. I could here his alarm sounding. I was surprised that he was low on air already, as I still had three-quarters of my tank left. What I did not realize at the time was that Firefighter Makos was having issues with his seal and had lost air quickly. I instructed him to follow the line out and re-supply, knowing I had a crew directly behind me on the stairs and a crew on the second floor.
It was at this time that the smoke lit up and heavy fire was directly above our heads, forcing me down to the stair landing at the turn, along with the crew on the stairs. I immediately realized that Firefighter Makos might not have exited the attic prior to the smoke lighting up. I asked the backup crew if Firefighter Makos had come by them and they said he had not.
I went back up the stairs, along with a member from the backup crew, to search for Firefighter Makos. On the way up the stairs, I scanned the room with the thermal imager with no result. I followed the line back up and found the bale wide open, with nobody on the line. I chased down the line and closed the bale.