Firehouse Magazine Heroism Awards: Salisbury, Maryland

On Dec. 16, 2007, the Salisbury, MD Fire Department was alerted for an auto accident during a heavy rain. Assistant Chief David Black was en route to Station 16 in his personal vehicle when the accident was placed under control. Immediately, at approximately 3:30 a.m., the department was alerted for a reported house fire at 514 Washington Street.

Salisbury police officer and volunteer firefighter, Steve Dickerson was on duty conducting business checks at a nearby strip mall. His coworker and fellow volunteer firefighter, Officer John Dimare had begun to take a meal break. They are only two officers who are volunteer firefighters. The city police dispatcher had contacted Dickerson and Dimare to check on a report of a house fire and advise what was found. "It was a fluke that they were listening to the fire board and sent us to check it out" says Dickerson.

Chief Black responded directly to the scene, as some of the responding companies were clearing the earlier auto accident. You could "find it by the glow", he stated. He found a two-story private dwelling with fire showing from the Bravo/Charlie corner and venting from the roof.

Dickerson arrived at the same time as Black. "There was a lot of smoke in the street and I ended up following David [Chief Black] in by his lights," he said. Dickerson made the decision to park near, but out of the way, to the closest hydrant anticipating helping the engine company catch the plug. Dimare arrived at the same time.

"There were people, neighbors, in the front yard milling around, and that just didn't look good," said Chief Black. "They were saying "they're" in there", so I gave an update of possible people trapped and immediately passed command." Chief Black said he was in his street clothes with only his portable radio.

Chief Black went to the front door and found the storm door locked. He went to a window immediately left of the door and vented it. "The only thought was that I'd take the window and reach in and do a sweep, maybe, because I knew the units were coming and if I found someone I could direct them." Completely clearing the window and climbing up and in he found an unconscious female. In thick smoke and increasing heat he struggled to get her up and out the window.

Nearly exhausted, he climbed back out to and went to the front door. "She was dead weight; it was all I could do to get her up onto the sill."

Dickerson said that when he and Dimare got close they could see Chief Black waving his arms, motioning them to him. As Black and Dimare went to the window to pull the victim out, Dickerson took his patrol baton, broke the storm door glass and kicked in the front door. "I figured I would try and get in at least far enough to search around the door or get in and help push her [victim] out." said Dickerson.

Black and Dimare finally got the victim out to the front lawn where Dimare started CPR. Black returned to the front door to assist Dickerson. With smoke no more than two feet off the floor and heat beginning to bank down further, the two were driven out, just before a flashover.

As they exited, neighbors came up to both men. "They told us the girl is in there [D quadrant]; that is her bedroom," said Chief Black.

Paramedic 2 was the first unit to arrive and took over patient care from Dimare. Engine 1 (4 firefighters) arrived as well as Rescue 16 (1 acting officer, 2 firefighters) and as Engine 1 waited for water Chief Black notified command and Rescue 16's officer of the child's location.

Due to their staffing, the entire crew made entry through a Side Alpha window to search. Truck 16 (1 officer, 3 firefighters) arrived and the neighbors told Black and Dickerson of a third victim inside as well. Black and Dickerson went to Truck 16's officer and relayed this information as well. Black directed the entire crew to the search while he, Dickerson and Dimare set up the apparatus. Together they raised the aerial to a second floor window on Side Alpha and a ground ladder to a Side Charlie second floor window. Dickerson said, "the roof was already vented and we were mainly thinking of egress for the crews inside."

The girl was quickly found and brought out a window as Dimare came back around to the front. "When I came around, I saw [Firefighter Jonathan] Hitch climbing out the window with the girl. He began to take off his facepiece, and I just ran up and grabbed her from him." Dimare ran up and into the back of one on the staged ambulances, placing the girl on the cot. As additional units and chief officers began to arrive the trio began to take themselves out of the immediate fireground operations.

Dickerson and Dimare switched over to their police officer duties by taping the area off from bystanders and meeting with their sergeant, now on the scene. The third victim was located a few feet from the farthest point Black and Dickerson had reached, behind a couch.

Since the fire claimed the lives of all three victims, Black, Dickerson and Dimare remained on the scene assisting the investigators as well. All throughout their actions, neither received any injuries.

Despite the tragic outcome, in the first four minutes of the incident, two victims were immediately located, removed, turned over to EMS personnel and transported to the local hospital.

"It was like the stars were lined up, that we were all there at the same time, that our dispatcher was listening to the fire board and asked us to go check it out," Dickerson said. Chief Black added, "If we had to do it all over again, there's no doubt we would, no doubt at all."