Close Calls: Firefighters Trapped At Maryland House Fire - Part 3

As reported in parts one and two of this column in the July and August issues, on Feb. 24, 2012, the Prince George’s County, MD, Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department (PGFD) was dispatched to an arson fire in a single-family house at which seven...


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38 Develop a department-wide policy that requires personnel to wear 100%-cotton garments under uniforms. This should include verbiage that prohibits the wearing of synthetic “moisture wicking” fitness apparel at any time while on duty. Combined with properly worn PPE, this will provide better protection from thermal injury.

39 Provide and require that all newly acquired uniforms comply with NFPA 1975, Standard on Station/Work Uniforms for Emergency Services.

40 A department-wide policy should be implemented to ensure that personnel are provided a “matching” ensemble of coat and pants from the same manufacturer.

42 Develop and maintain a centralized database to track issuance, inspection and maintenance of all PPE items.

43 Revise General Order 10-03: Cleaning, Repair, Replacement and Alteration of Personal Protective Equipment to require an annual advanced inspection as outlined in NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Firefighting and Proximity Firefighting.

46. Ensure all filters in the primary and secondary pressure reducers are changed when flow tested. If a third-party contractor is used, this must be specified in the contract.

 

Assessing the incident

These comments are by Chief Randy Kuenzli of the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department, PGFD Fire/EMS Station 809:

I can honestly say, in no uncertain terms, this clearly can and does happen to you. I have read the trade articles on these and many other kinds of incidents for many years and often thought, “It won’t happen to us” and I could probably list a million reasons, in my mind, why. Then reality strikes, of course when least expected. It hits you upside the head like a 50-pound sledge when it involves your own personnel.

I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been; however, through years of reading articles and reports such as this one, I knew what I needed to do; for my members, their families and the rest of my personnel. These articles and reports are important for every firefighter to read, more importantly they are a must for every chief or command officer. As a fire chief, your personnel come first and foremost. Do not ignore the things you think won’t happen or put off the things you don’t want to deal with because you doubt you’ll ever need to.

I learned a phrase as a young firefighter, years ago that has stuck with me my entire career. It has never run through my mind as much as it did that night and since, to this day been proven so true. It is a phrase we must live by and apply as much as possible, to the development of and actions taken in mitigating our calls for service. “If it is predictable, it is preventable!” by Gordon Graham; 1980.

As the chief of our all-volunteer fire and EMS Station 809, answering over 6,000 fire/EMS calls per year, operating within one of the greatest and most unique combination systems in our nation, I recognized the need for some immediate change. These changes, where possible at the station level, began implementation within weeks of this incident. I welcomed the investigation of the incident, knowing very well it would fully open my personnel and our station to scrutiny. We accept the recommendations of the team and look forward to reviewing and input of the pending changes as they are developed.

On behalf of all of my personnel, we are thankful for the continued support of Fire Sergeant Kevin O’Toole, Firefighter Ethan Sorrell and our entire station. We will continue to strive at providing the best professional service to our customers.

 

These comments are by Chief Goldfeder:

This fire could have easily ended up with a line-of-duty death or deaths; thankfully, due to quick thinking when the interior conditions turned bad, it did not. It should be noted that while much of this could have been avoided, regardless of that, when the conditions did turn, Firefighter Sorrell’s quick actions led to the rapid removal of Fire Sergeant O’Toole, likely saving his life.

Fire chiefs have options before, during and after fires. The most effective are often what we do (to prepare and plan) before the next fire. Sizing-up refers to determining what the situation is – and determining your plan of action, and insuring you have the resources to do what you want – quickly. Size-up refers to not only when we arrive at a fire, but well before we are dispatched to a fire, so we can predict what we may encounter, what we want to do-and what resources are needed. Before the fire.