Photo credit: Photo Courtesy Bladensburg VFD
Photo credit: Photo Courtesy Bladensburg VFD
On June 4, 2007 the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department (MD) was alerted to respond on a first-due box alarm for an apartment fire at 5122 Kenilworth Avenue. The crew of Engine 92 along with Chief 9 arrived at the nearby building as communications reported supplemental information of a possible child trapped inside the burning apartment.
As Engine 92 laid their supply line Engine Captain (now Assistant Chief) Christopher Moe recalls jumping out of the cab and ran to the reported apartment. "Actually, when we arrived, there was nothing evident, and then we saw the woman out front, in a towel, wet, soot on her face, and we just knew."
Firefighter Ryan Raneiri, riding in the backup position, also ran to meet up with his officer. "She was pointing, screaming, hysterical" said Ryan. When they had stopped to layout Moe radioed his chief, also on the scene, to confirm the fire apartment number and then he and Ryan made their way into the building.
As the remaining firefighters began to stretch a 200' crosslay, Moe and Ryan reached the stairway landing near the second floor. Smoke was banked down to the floor as the two located the reported fire apartment. After Moe forced the apartment door with a sledge hammer, the two moved in. "I knew the crew we had on the engine, and I actually didn't know Ryan was with me. I'm glad he was; it worked out fine knowing that the line was on the way," Moe said.
With thicker smoke and fire extending from a rear bedroom into the hallway, they began a rapid search. Moe recalls "I remember it was bad, you couldn't see with a light, and I was just thinking 'find the kid'."
Finding a living room window, he vented it to try and improve the conditions and get his bearings. "These apartments have one bedroom, in the rear, but it's a snake-like hallway" said Ryan. Moe said that when he found the stove and knew he was in the kitchen, he then knew what wall, or side, he was on. As the two searched deeper into the apartment, they could hear the lineman and layout firefighters coming in with the handline. "I heard water running in a small room, so I knew I was in the bathroom, and did a quick search of a closet" said Ryan.
From that point, he and Moe then moved into the rear bedroom. "I could hear the line coming up behind us and Moe taking out another window, and then I could feel the railings."
Ryan found a crib in the fire room and quickly felt inside, finding a young child. "My reaction was 'okay, back out the way I came in' but the line was there, and this area is known for having 50 to 60 guys come in through the front interior stairs, so I just turned back around to find a window at the same time Moe radioed we found the kid."
Oddly enough, as Moe had vented the window, a firefighter from the second-due truck company (Truck 1, Hyattsville) had already laddered the exact same window that was vented and he began ascending the ladder. "I heard Ryan say he had the kid, so I radioed the chief, and when I looked out the window, here was this ladder already there and a guy climbing up," Moe said. He took the child from Ryan and placed his facepiece over the child. The conditions in the fire room still had not improved, even as the line was being placed into operation. "I remember that I really didn't get a good look to see what condition she was in, it was still so thick in there." Handing the child to the firefighter on the ladder, Moe and Ryan returned to assist their engine crew with final extinguishment.
"It was probably the smoothest fire in 14 years that I've ever been to" said Moe. Not having to supervise his lineman and layout firefighter, the fire was quickly controlled and extinguished. Ryan added that the whole event happened rather quickly.
Uncanny is also how the two described it. The actions of the two reflect a confidence in the performance of the members running the line. Moe said he is never one to simply jump out and run off, and neither is Ryan, but both were thinking of the child in the fire apartment.
Their individual actions also reflect a learned knowledge of the apartment layouts and fireground operations typical of their first-due area. Ryan said "we do a lot of drills, tabletop scenarios, and first-due drills, but most of it comes from ambulance calls. Our members rotate through and they see the majority of these apartments on ambulance calls, so they learn the layouts quickly."
That experience weighed heavy both individually and collectively. Moe has 14 years of experience and is a career firefighter with Montgomery County (MD). Ryan has 10 years and is a career firefighter at Andrews Airforce Base (MD). The remainder of the crew of Engine 92, the lineman, layout and driver have 25 years total between them. Still, they both remarked at the uniqueness of the fire. Moe recalls, "it was really weird how, of all the windows we took out, that the truck happened to throw the first ladder to that [bedroom] window, and also weird that the medic unit just happened to be in the rear, with their cot and gear."