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Last month, we began reporting on an incident in which a fire chief arrived at a house fire with people trapped before the first apparatus could reach the scene. He had little choice but to force entry, search and make a rescue. For his heroic efforts, Chief Thomas O’Donohue of the Golden Valley, AZ, Fire District (GVFD) was the first fire chief to receive the International Association of Fire Chiefs/Motorola Solutions Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor, the highest honor bestowed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).
Our sincere thanks to all of the members of the Golden Valley Fire District, Assistant Chief Ted Martin and Chief O’Donohue for their assistance.
This incident time line is provided by the GVFD:
7:38 A.M. – Chief 101 (O’Donohue) responded to a reported residential structure fire at 5324 Destiny Way. Once enroute, O’Donohue reported a “large column of black smoke visible from approximately one mile away.”
7:39 – O’Donohue reported from the Alpha side of the structure, “On scene with a fully involved structure fire with exposures. Chief 101 will be Destiny Way Command.”
7:40 – O’Donohue reported over the radio, “Reports of person trapped in the home” per neighbors who stated the elderly woman resident was still inside the house. O’Donohue proceeded from the Alpha side to the Charlie side of the residence where screams for help could be heard. Once on the Charlie side (north) of the residence, O’Donohue witnessed two persons standing outside the structure: off-duty Golden Valley Firefighter/Engineer Steve Winn and neighbor Paul Bissonette. Both Bissonette and Winn were assisting neighbor Robert Davies, who was inside the structure holding the 92-year-old resident, Charlotte Sowards, next to a broken out bedroom window on the Bravo side of the Bravo/Charlie corner of the bedroom.
7:42 – Engine 111 (Captain B. Lewis) reported on scene and requested an assignment. O’Donohue advised over the radio, “Need an immediate crew to the Bravo/Charlie corner for an immediate rescue.” Smoke was billowing out of the bedroom. O’Donohue advised Davies that he (O’Donohue) would be assisting the two occupants out. C-101 attempted entry via a door on the Bravo side, but heavy fire conditions dictated that entry was untenable and would further compromise the rescue by opening the bedroom door, the only stopgap between the bedroom and the heavy fire.
O’Donohue returned to the Bravo-side window and advised Davies to cover their faces. O’Donohue broke out the second glass window to provide more fresh air to the occupants. He then proceeded to the Charlie side and entered the bedroom headfirst through the window, lowering himself to the floor to begin rescue operations. O’Donohue and Davies repeatedly attempted to lift the approximately 240-pound female occupant up and over the nearly five-foot-high windowsill on the Bravo side, noting the fire breaching the doorway and coming across the ceiling.
7:44 – O’Donohue requested personnel to the back of the structure for an “imminent rescue” and reported; “Chief 101 to responding units. I need people around the back of the structure for an imminent rescue, we’re inside.” O’Donohue and Davies now inched Sowards to the Charlie-side window due to fire beginning to breach the bedroom doorway and heavy fire developing outside the Bravo-side window.
7:45 – O’Donohue and Davies, now at the Charlie-side window, noted that the fire had completely breached the doorway and was spreading rapidly into the bedroom, up the walls and across the ceiling of the bedroom and coming over their heads. O’Donohue, with his right shoulder under the buttocks of Sowards and Davies lifting her left arm, pushed her out of the window into the arms of Winn, who slid her head first and prone down the six-foot stepladder outside the window. O’Donohue then assisted Davies up and out the window headfirst as well. O’Donohue then exited the structure out the same window.