Close Calls: "The Worst Day Of My Life" ? Part 1

Does any of this sound familiar? A firefighter: • Dies after falling from aerial ladder during training • Dies after falling from a rope • Is killed falling from an elevated aerial platform • Dies while participating in a live-fire...


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Does any of this sound familiar? A firefighter:

• Dies after falling from aerial ladder during training

• Dies after falling from a rope

• Is killed falling from an elevated aerial platform

• Dies while participating in a live-fire training evolution at an acquired structure

• Is critically burned after becoming injured during a live-fire evolution at a training academy and dies two days later

• Dies in a live-fire training exercise that injures four other firefighters

• Is killed in a flashover during a live-fire training evolution that injures two other firefighters

• Dies during a controlled-burn training evolution

 

“It’s just training”

The above are just samples. We have quite a history of getting ourselves hurt or killed during training. Why? In most cases, it’s because we (from the command level to the firefighter level) get too comfortable. It may be that simple. We drift from what we know and what we were taught, we get comfortable and we ignore standards, policy and common sense.

Sometimes, like I once did, we pass responsibility to someone else and the next thing you know, during a “break” between evolutions, firefighters were diving out of windows. We ignore what we know and how we might act at a “real” fire. After all, “it’s just training” is the conscious or “un”-conscious attitude that takes over what should be a high level of preparedness and risk management.

 

Firefighters hurt or killed during training?

While above I gave you a listing of several incidents, here is a brief review of some that impacted me in my career. It’s important that we understand history because it doesn’t have to repeat itself.

• Two Colorado firefighters killed (Jan. 26, 1982) ? Four Boulder (Colorado) firefighters, including William J. Duran and Scott L. Smith, entered an old chicken coop for a supposed routine training exercise. Two other fire crews already had completed the exercise with no problem. Tires that had been set on fire for smoke in the exercise then ignited highly flammable fiberboard ceiling tiles.

Within seconds, the fire was rolling out of control. Duran, a 30-year-old engineer and father of three, and Smith, a 21-year-old who had joined the department just three months earlier, burned to death. Two other firefighters, Cyrus Pinkerton, who was supervising the training exercise, and Daniel Cutler, both escaped, but suffered serious burns. RIP.

• Three Michigan firefighters killed (Oct. 25, 1987) ? This was training in arson recognition to let trainees see fire evidence before and after the fact. It would also provide “bonus” training in interior structural firefighting and in the use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). A tanker shuttle was to be used to supply water for the drill, providing an opportunity for all four departments to practice this method, and members of an Explorer Scout group were on hand to practice operating exterior handlines. The plan was to reignite the house and burn it to the ground after completion of the interior operations and examination of the evidence. Exterior 2½-inch hoselines were positioned to protect an exposed new house under construction on the same property.

Deaths and injuries occurred because of an “unanticipated” flashover on the ground floor that trapped six members on the upper level. Three of those members escaped, but three were killed as the fire rapidly extended to the second floor. All three deaths were attributed to inhalation of products of combustion, although all were wearing full protective clothing and SCBA. The dead firefighters included 41-year-old Marsha Baczynski of the Milford Township Volunteer Fire Department, Thomas Phelps, 34, of the Lyon Township, and 33-year-old Robert Gregory of the Highland Township Fire Department. The three injured firefighters were all members of the Milford department. RIP.

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