Firefighters Trapped At Maryland House Fire - Part 1

On Feb. 24, 2012, the Prince George’s County, MD, Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department (PGFD) responded to a fire in a single-family dwelling fire in Riverdale Heights. During firefighting operations, seven firefighters were injured. Some of these...


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Firefighters in jeopardy

Shortly after arriving, firefighters forced the front door of the structure on the Alpha side, which immediately changed the fire’s flow path and dynamics by adding a ventilation opening above the fire. This situation was intensified by weather conditions (high winds impacting the rear of the structure). Two firefighters entered the structure through the front door, placing themselves above the basement fire and in its outflow path. This exposed them to high-velocity and high-temperature gases.

The two firefighters were trapped on the first floor without the protection of a hoseline when the front door shut behind them and changed the fire’s flow path. The hot smoke and gases that were coming up the interior stairwell and escaping out the front door were now contained to the first floor. This dropped the smoke layer to the floor and temporarily increased the temperature from floor to ceiling in the front room where the firefighters were trapped.

One firefighter was able to self-rescue through a front window and the other firefighter was removed through the front door by other firefighters. The fire in the basement burned unchecked until an engine company entered the basement from the rear of the structure and began putting water on the fire. Ultimately, seven firefighters were injured; the two firefighters who were trapped on the first floor sustained the most significant injuries.

Our sincere thanks to all those who responded and were impacted by this fire, with special thanks to Fire Sergeant Kevin O’Toole (Bladensburg Company 809) and Firefighter Ethan Sorrell, who were critically injured while operating at this fire, and Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor, Deputy Fire Chief/Fire Marshal Scott Hoglander, Bladensburg 809 Fire Chief Randy Kuenzli and Deputy Chief Robert Pickel, the Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, the Prince George’s County Professional Firefighters International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 1619 and Prince George’s County Public Safety Communications personnel. Also, thanks to Lee McCarthy of the ATF, Dan Madrzykowski of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Acting Captain Dan Schrader and Safety Battalion Chief Sayshun Conver White. Special thanks to the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department, Company 809, members, who has added $10,000 of their own funding toward the reward to capture those responsible for this fire.

Safety Investigation Team

PGFD policy dictated that a Safety Investigation Team (SIT) be established. It should be noted that the fire chief directed the team to consist of fire personnel from within as well as subject-matter experts external to the PGFD to ensure a full, open and fully transparent investigation. For more than a year, the SIT visited the scene, reviewed statements, conducted interviews and gathered data. The team identified many factors that contributed to the outcome and injuries to the firefighters. While the safety investigation report details all of these factors, the team identified the following as most critical:

1. An effective size-up was not completed, including a 360-degree survey walk around the building, as well as evaluating environmental conditions.

2. No Incident Action Plan (IAP) was communicated and firefighters were dangerously positioned above and in the outflow path of the fire.

3. A firefighter emergency occurred, but no Mayday was effectively communicated.

4. Multiple existing policies and procedures were not followed.

5. Training deficiencies were identified at all levels.

6. Command, control and accountability deficiencies were identified at all levels.