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The action of opening the front door immediately changed the fire’s flow path and dynamics by adding an opening above the neutral plane. Thick, dark, black smoke pushed out of the front door, filling the front yard with smoke. The open front door added an outflow on the first floor that let the fire in the basement grow and increase in size and directed much of the hot smoke and gases up the interior stairwell and out the front door. This situation, which occurred due to the natural fire-induced flows, was only intensified by the high winds impacting side Charlie of the structure. The outflow path of hot smoke was in the same area where Truck 809 Forcible Entry and Truck 809 Officer began their search. These firefighters reported seeing only smoke initially, but eventually flames coming up the interior basement stairs.
Approximately 1.5 minutes after forcing the front door, firefighters on the first floor noticed a sudden change in the airflows that caused the front door to slam shut. Once the front door was shut, the flow path of the fire once again changed. The hot smoke that was coming up the interior stairwell and escaping out of the front door was now trapped on the first floor. This dropped the smoke layer to the floor and temporarily increased the temperatures from floor to ceiling in the front room.
Approximately 30 seconds after the front door shut, windows were broken on the first floor for firefighter self-rescue and exterior ventilation operations. Prior to firefighters reopening the front door on side Alpha to initiate a rescue of Truck 809 Forcible Entry, Engine 809 firefighters on side Charlie entered the basement and put water on the fire. While the rescue was being completed, these firefighters extinguished the majority of the fire, improving conditions throughout. Once rescues were completed, the structure was evacuated and firefighters re-grouped prior to completely extinguishing the fire.
Fire behavior conclusions:
1. Initial observations indicated that on arrival of the fire department, there was a ventilation-limited basement fire that was aided by high winds from the northwest. These observations included:
a. Flames out two basement windows.
b. Pressurized smoke condition on the first floor.
c. Significant and unusual smoke conditions in the front yard.
d. High winds impacting side Charlie of the structure.
2. When the front door was opened on the first floor, the fire flow path changed and the size of the fire increased. The additional ventilation, without the application of water to the fire, made conditions within the structure worse (i.e., higher temperatures and larger fire size) and drove much of the hot smoke up the interior stairs and out the front door.
3. While the change in flow path occurred due to the natural fire-induced buoyant forces, the wind conditions only added to this by driving hot smoke and gases up the interior stairs and out the front door. This further increased the size and intensity of the fire, and more rapidly changed the flow path.
4. Truck 809 Officer and Truck 809 Forcible Entry were in the outflow path and exposed to high-velocity and high-temperature gases, adding significant convective heat transfer, which ultimately resulted in serious burn injuries.
The results of the operational safety investigation:
The following is a brief overview of the critical points related to this fire. The report, is organized into two parts. Part one provides a detailed description of the facts pertaining to and leading up to the emergency situation that injured the firefighters. Part two is an analysis of the incident, which describes the factors that led to the outcome, as well as the recommendations.
• Command and control of incident operations. This is a primary responsibility of unit and command officers. Command presence and control of the dynamic situations associated with structure fires is a critical element to safely mitigate an incident. This incident demonstrated the need to establish one standardized county-wide system of command documentation, control and management during operations. A standardized fireground tactical command board, sheet and system needs to be established and distributed to all chief officers within the PGFD. This county-wide tactical command sheet/board must be required for use in any multi-unit response to ensure command and control of incident operations.
• Fireground safety and accountability. These are critical to safe fireground operations. Crew integrity and accountability during incident operations must be maintained at all times to ensure the safety of the personnel. It is imperative that the department adopt a culture of personal safety by the members and embrace fireground operational safety practices as a part of incident operations. A life-threatening firefighter emergency occurred during the initial operations, but a firefighter Mayday was not transmitted effectively at this fire. Company officers and firefighters need to recognize life-threatening events and transmit Maydays immediately.