If your firefighters are not educated on the problem, how can they educate your citizens?
Every firefighter dreams of making a save; however, what they fail to realize is that they miss the opportunity to do so on a daily basis. This Fire Prevention Week, work on helping your firefighters make those saves every day.
I was a rookie paid on-call firefighter with the Scarborough, ME, Fire Department’s Engine 5 in 1997. My first fire, a fire which would decide my path in the fire service, occurred on November 21. The fire was in a two-story ranch home and we were told on dispatch that an infant was trapped. Engine 5 was second to arrive, and as I nervously jumped from the cab, I can still remember the sound of the awesome roar of the fire and how I could literally feel the power and heat of the flames from the street.
I was a rookie and barely knew which end of the hose pointed toward the fire, but I knew enough to know we were too late. I was a firefighter jumping off a fire truck in full bunker gear, thousands of dollars in what at the time was modern technology and every tool the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) told us we needed to carry, and we arrived within minutes of the alarm – but I felt, and I in fact was, completely powerless.
This fire was a fatality for that trapped infant, a four-month old baby girl named Megan. Megan had just been moved mom and dad’s second-floor bedroom to her own, and as normal concerned parents would do, her parents left the bedroom doors open so they could hear their baby’s call in the middle of the night. The fire erupted on the first floor in the kitchen area and mom stated she hadn’t been in bed longer than 15 minutes when the smoke detector outside her bedroom awakened her. But it was too late. Anyone who has ever crawled down a second-floor hallway knows the heat and smoke mom and dad faced as they tried to navigate the simple five feet to Megan’s bedroom. They couldn’t make it. Mom and dad, along with the older children, all survived after finally being forced to jump from the second-story windows.
Why is this story pertinent here? Not only did the bedroom door being left open and a lack of an escape plan factor into Megan’s death, there was no smoke detector on the first floor, which could have alerted the family in enough time to grab Megan! A simple smoke detector on the first floor, along with a closed bedroom door, would have saved Megan’s life by giving her time. There were older children in the home, so it can be safely assumed at some point this family had contact with the fire department and firefighters. Why did Megan become a statistic? What went wrong? If we are firefighters worthy of the badge we wear then we should be compelled to look at this fire and ask what more we could have done to save Megan. But that thinking has to extend beyond the fireground and into our profession as a whole.
All the common fire statistics were met that night. The cause of this fire, its spread, and the reason for death was no secret to the fire service profession and well documented in fire statistics. It is an all too common story that happens time and time again. We knew what would cause that fire. We knew how that fire would spread. We knew how that fire would kill. We knew what would save Megan’s life. We knew the risks our firefighters would be subjected to in order to battle that fire. Yet we did nothing to prevent it from happening. We simply sat and waited for the 911 call. That is not why I joined this profession and not what I want my career to stand for.
I learned a valuable lesson that night. No matter how quickly we responded to the scene the night of November 21, no matter how much training, no matter how big our fire trucks were or how much water they carried and could pump in a minute, no matter how many firefighters were on the engine (we left the station with four that night), no matter what technology we brought with us or how much training we had it was worthless. None of it could have saved Megan – but a simple $15 smoke detector and a closed bedroom door, along with an educated firefighter who could communicate the importance of having them to a caring mother, could have.