Close Calls: Chief First on Scene: Working Fire, People Trapped - Part 2

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...


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Once outside, Winn, Davies and O’Donohue lifted the woman, who was lying on the ground, away from the window/wall area that was now well-engulfed in fire to reduce thermal/radiation burns to the two rescued persons. O’Donohue then reported over the radio, “We’ve rescued two people from inside the structure…send the ambulance around the back.”

The woman was transferred to the RMI ambulance crew for transport to the hospital. Davies was transferred to a second RMI ambulance for evaluation for smoke inhalation and cuts to his hands. O’Donohue self-transported to Kingman Regional Medical Center for evaluation for smoke inhalation.

 

Comments from Chief Goldfeder following discussion with Chief O’Donohue:

Congratulations to Chief O’Donohue for not only saving the victim’s life, but for reminding people that there are times when firefighters may have to take great risks to save someone who is savable.

In recent years, as firefighter survival has been brought to the forefront, there are plenty of people in all “corners” of the debate. Add the recent science applied to fire behavior (and its proven findings) and there is no shortage of opinions. Some want to always attack offensively. Some want to always operate defensively. The experienced ones understand it all depends on the conditions sized-up.

Then there are the extremes. For example, I recently saw a video of a firefighter who, in bunker gear, decided to “play” inside a well-involved building for absolutely no reason. He was demonstrating (for a local camera covering the fire at a single-family dwelling) his ability to walk inside the nearly collapsed burning house and show how he could “forcibly exit” the dwelling by forcing some door frames – the same door frames he had just walked through.

After his officer yelled at him, by name, to stay out, he walked to another area of the building, with the camera following him, and walked again inside what was left of this burning house and proceeded to force a door frame for no other reason than to play. No mask, no hoseline, no self-discipline, no respect – just a personal playground to play in. And that term was in the words of one of his own bosses who reached out in embarrassment. Firefighter bravery? No. Heroism? No. Risk? No. Science? No. Playtime. Cancerous smoke. Obvious collapse potential. No accountability. No training.

Some people contend that any firefighter line-of-duty death (LODD) is avoidable. Sure, if we don’t go to fires. Understand that there is a difference between necessary LODDs and unnecessary LODDs. If the above firefighter playing at that dwelling fire had tragically lost his life, it obviously would have been an unnecessary death. It was the epitome of freelancing. On the other hand, there are firefighters who did what had to be done, all doing their best, and lives were still lost. Hero firefighters died. This is a risky business, but in 2014, the training is there for us to make the best size-ups to minimize things from going wrong. Do the math, to yourself, look at the reports and you decide personally what you would have done in the case of any LODD.

Recently, a veteran fire officer in Kentucky was at his brother-in-law’s house. They spotted a house on fire. They reported it and ran to the smoking house, but had no personal protective equipment (PPE). Both were lieutenants in the local fire department. There were clear size-up indications and signs of life in that house, so they forced a door to search for a child known to be in the home. The house flashed over and the one lieutenant was trapped. The other officer made entry and pulled the burning lieutenant out. Tragically, 50-plus days later, that lieutenant died from his injuries. It turns out no one was in the home, but a car, a light and animals were clear signs that the family could have been in there. His size-up provided the information to indicate that there were “sized-up” reasons for him and his firefighter brother-in-law to take that risk.

So what would you do? You have obvious signs that a house on fire is occupied. You are alone without full PPE. Odds are, many of you would have done the same thing he did. I believe I would have. Maybe you would have; maybe you wouldn’t have. History shows that many firefighters in similar situations have absolutely saved lives by taking the risk based on the conditions and size-up. And experience. And training.