Cover Story: Bail Out!

TOWNSEND, DE, JAN. 4, 2013 – Several fire companies were dispatched after a residential fire was reported early in the afternoon. Townsend Firefighter Michael Ehart passed the address while responding to the fire station and saw smoke coming out the front door. The 2½-story, wood-frame private dwelling had been converted to apartments. A rescue, tanker and an engine initially responded from Townsend to the location a few blocks away.

The first team of firefighters entered the first floor to extinguish the fire. Firefighter Tom Shoemaker was working a part-time shift in the ambulance in the Odessa Fire Company. From his station, a tanker responded and the ambulance followed. The ambulance crew worked with the tanker crew upon arrival.

Other firefighters were assigned to assist the advancing hoselines and to throw ladders to the second floor. Ventilation was completed on the first floor. Firefighters were ordered to advance a hoseline to the second floor via a window. When the window was first cleared, the smoke was dark, but tolerable. Shoemaker and Ehart advanced a charged 1¾-inch hoseline into the second-floor bedroom off the portable ladder. Visibility was zero.

After they searched for the fire for a few minutes, conditions changed. Shoemaker could feel extreme heat through his triple-layer hood and the wristlets on his turnout gear started to burn. He looked at the heads-up display on his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and saw that he did not have enough air to stay and make a push on the fire. Shoemaker told Ehart that something was not right – “We need to get out. Get out now!”

A firefighter was on the ladder outside the window. Shoemaker told him they were coming out. He started to throw his leg over the window sill, but it was a high sill and Shoemaker decided to go over the sill head-first. He told Ehart, “Do what I do.” Conditions were deteriorating so quickly that Shoemaker did not want to take more time getting out and have Ehart endure more punishment than he had to.

Dark, turbulent smoke was venting out the window, so Shoemaker went out head-first. He could still feel the heat on his neck through his hood. Ehart followed him to the window. The temperature was increasing as Ehart crouched low below the window. It was extremely hot as he went out the window. Sixteen seconds after they were on the ground, the fire vented from the window they had just exited.

After both got off the ladder their turnout gear and SCBA were removed to check for burns. Neither suffered any burns. Handlines were operated from the exterior to knock down the fire that was venting from two windows of the bedroom they had just passed. The fire was knocked down from the exterior and both firefighters got dressed and operated inside. Firefighters opened walls and ceilings to knock down any remaining fire. The building suffered extensive damage. n