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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• New Jersey firefighters burned (Dec. 6, 1992) ? Morris County, NJ’s Greystone Park Fire Department (GPFD) was conducting a Firefighter I class with 19 recruits from the area. Two officers from the GPFD taught the course, with one of the officers being a state-certified fire instructor. On that day, the class was held with just the one certified instructor and 18 of the recruits. The goal that day was to familiarize the recruits with real fire conditions. A 1976 bus, donated by the board of education, had been on site and used by the local fire department for two years. The seats were removed and steel plates were welded over the windows.

On that day, the fuel load in the bus consisted of a foam-cushioned couch, a hollow wood door, a tire and a five-gallon can containing a small amount of liquid fuel. Wood soaked in kerosene was placed in three sections of 55-gallon drums that had been cut in half to create heat and smoke. Shredded paper was placed under the foam cushions on the couch and a road flare was left under the cushions to ignite the fire.

The fire was allowed to burn for approximately 10 minutes before five students and the one instructor entered the bus. Between 30 seconds to a minute after they entered the bus, a flashover occurred. The instructor and two students exited the bus immediately and were uninjured. Two other students were able to exit on their own, but were injured. One student had to be removed from the bus and was severely injured.

• New York firefighter trainee killed (Sept. 25, 2001) ? A Lairdsville, NY, fire training death led to the trial and conviction of Lairdsville’s former assistant fire chief for criminal negligence. The training detail killed 19-year-old firefighter trainee Bradley Golden and severely injured two other members. Golden, who had been a volunteer firefighter for only a few weeks, had not received any formal training and had never worn SCBA in fire conditions.

Golden and another firefighter were put on the second level of the duplex to play the role of trapped firefighters. They were placed in the front bedroom with some debris scattered about the floor and a Ping-Pong table actually placed on them to simulate entrapment. The “plan” included blocking the stairs of the unit leading to the trapped firefighters to simulate a stair collapse, so the fire companies would have to access the second floor via the stairs on the other side of the duplex and breach a wall.

Although a burn barrel had already been lit on the second floor, the first assistant chief also lit the foam mattress of a sofa downstairs. In a matter of seconds, it took off, with the area now involved with fire and nasty smoke.

One firefighter, already on the second floor, went to retrieve the “trapped firefighters,” but lost his fire gloves in the process, exposing his leather gloves underneath. The leather gloves immediately burned and adhered to his skin. He and the “trapped firefighters” became separated. The firefighter made it back to the bedroom with the burn barrel and frantically searched for the window that had been boarded shut to aid in the smoke conditions. He pried the window open with his hands and jumped from the second floor just as the first assistant chief arrived with the handline.

The two staged unknowing engine companies proceeded to the scene under normal driving conditions as planned, and once on scene were informed that two firefighters really were down on the second floor and that one firefighter had jumped from the second-story window. The companies, now in total surprise as this training turned to reality, deployed a rapid intervention team.

Golden was unresponsive when he was removed and was pronounced dead at the hospital. The cause of his death was listed as asphyxia due to smoke inhalation. The two other firefighters who were on the second floor during the incident suffered severe burns and were airlifted to an area burn unit. RIP.

• Two Florida firefighters killed (July 30, 2002) ? A foam-rubber mattress was used to fuel a fire during training. Again, there was a flashover. This time, two Osceola County firefighters, Osceola County Fire Department Lieutenant John Mickel and rookie firefighter Dallas Begg were killed. RIP.

Now, after looking at some history, we have the opportunity to learn again, directly from a firefighter who became another victim of “live-fire” training. My sincere thanks to Wisconsin Firefighter Candace Wetter for sharing this story and passing on the details so that we have a chance to learn.

 

“The worst day of my life” ? A personal account from Firefighter Candace Wetter: