Low Air: Quick Exit, Stay Calm, No Injuries

Feb. 1, 2004
Harvey Eisner interviews a Fort Worth, TX, firefighter who experienced difficulties such as poor visibility, high heat and poor air supply in a narrow escape.
On Dec. 3, 2003, Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department En-gine 8 and Truck 8 quartered together began their tour of duty. Engine 8 consisted of Lieutenant David Collard, Driver Paul Jones, and Firefighters Bart Bradberry and Mike Pooler. The crew of Truck 8 was made up of Captain John Phillips, Driver Coda Griffay and Firefighters Vince Bonilla and Chuck Donaho.
Photo by Glen Ellman Firefighter Bart Bradberry climbs out a second-floor window after running low on air. High heat and separation from the hoseline forced him to find another exit. He was going to spin over the side of the roof and right himself and drop to the ground.
Photo by Glen Ellman Firefighters reach up to catch Bradberry as he exits the building. Quint 17, the rapid intervention team, had already placed a ladder to the second floor, but because of the smoke and the heat cracking his mask, Bradberry was unable to see it.
Photo by Glen Ellman After Bradberry reaches the ground, the damage to his faceshield is evident. His airmask and hood also were damaged.
Photo by Glen Ellman Taken to rehab, Bradberry was fortunate not to have been injured.

At 8:30 A.M., Engine 8 responded as the fourth-due engine to a one-alarm assignment consisting of four engines, one truck, one quint and a battalion chief. The structure fire was reported at 3005 South Jennings Ave. Before their arrival, the crew of Engine 8 could see heavy smoke from a distance. The fire was in an occupied house, but the occupants had exited the building.

Heavy fire was visible from the first-floor rear of the two-story dwelling. Heavy smoke was visible. Engine 8 was assigned to the rear exposure D side. Two 13¼4-inch handlines were operating inside the first floor. Another handline was being used to knock down fire that had extended to an adjacent exposure on the B side. Fire was reported on the second floor of the fire building. No companies were operating upstairs.

The battalion chief ordered Engine 8 to stretch a handline to the second floor. Collard, Bradberry and Pooler took a line upstairs. Collard then left, telling the others he would be right back with a larger line. There was heavy fire in one room to the right and one room to the left at the top of the stairs. The fire was venting out of each room and meeting on the second-floor landing.

Collard returned with a 13¼4-inch handline as the firefighters were trying to extinguish the fire. They were experiencing high heat, and every time they knocked down the fire, it reignited. Firefighters were trying to keep the stairway from being blocked. They had a hard time trying to extinguish the fire. It turned out that the room had some type of concealed space that encircled the second floor.

The dwelling had a peaked roof, and the attic became well involved, where hoselines could not reach. Bradberry’s low-air alarm activated. The lieutenant, who was positioned right behind Bradberry, said his alarm also was sounding. The hoseline was shut down and the fire started to come back on the firefighters. The lieutenant told the firefighters to keep flowing water. He was going to go downstairs and direct a crew upstairs to relieve them. Visibility was poor and there was still high heat.

Truck 8 had cut two holes in the roof. When the relief crew came up to relieve Engine 8, Bradberry moved to his right and somehow his hand became caught in Pooler’s self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Bradberry jerked his hand loose and became separated from Pollard and the hoseline. Bradberry thought he was right near the stairway, but instead he found a wall. Now he was lost.

Bradberry was concerned about his air supply. He knew he needed to find an exit, there was no time to find the stairs. Bradberry turned to his right and saw lighter smoke at a window. Bradberry stuck his head through the window, took off his regulator and yelled for a ladder. High heat and smoke forced him to put his regulator back in place. The SCBA he was wearing has an integrated PASS device. Concerned about his air supply being very low, he remembered the ladder bailout technique that was taught to every member of the department. Bradberry thought he could use the same technique. He intended to glide out the window, and when his legs became clear he would drop and land on his feet.

There was very little visibility, and Bradberry’s facemask had cracked from the heat. Bradberry reported it was still very hot. Bradberry said when he went out the window there was a short, two-foot roofline. As Bradberry started out the window Engineer Mike Woodard of Engine 17 also was in the room, but Bradberry could not see him. Woodard grabbed Bradberry’s leg, which kept him from falling the rest of the way. The wind was blowing in a direction that was pushing the heat right on the firefighters.

When Bradberry made it to the short roof, Collard went downstairs to look for him, thinking he might have passed him without knowing it. If Bradberry was not downstairs, Collard was going to give a Mayday. When Collard got outside, he saw Bradberry sliding down the overhang of the roof. Collard and the crew from Quint 17 assisted in catching Bradberry. There was a ladder that Quint 17 – the rapid intervention team – had positioned earlier, but with the low visibility and his facemask cracking, Bradberry never saw it.

Bradberry was then helped to the front of the house and to rehab. His faceshield, airmask and hood were damaged due to the high heat, but there was no other damage to his gear and he suffered no injuries. Bradberry said his gear did what it was supposed to do. Apparently, the room he entered was four feet from the stairway. This was the room on the right of the stairway landing that also had been involved in fire. Bradberry said after he was separated from the hoseline, he knew that he had to remain calm and find another exit. The training that he had received in “saving your own” also helped him. Bradberry was the junior man working that day. He said the training was like insurance; it is nice to have it and hope you never need it, but once you need it, is nice to have had the training.

If he had not found the window, he said, he would have activated his PASS device. Bradberry summed up the lessons reinforced by this incident: stay with the hoseline, keep a clear head and look for an alternate exit, but stay with the hose. You can look for the exits and windows when you do a size-up as you approach the scene.

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