Firefighting, Health & Safety, Leadership

Near Miss Report Update: Go to the light

by Amanda McHenry

The keyword that returned this week’s featured report was “handlight.” The return provided a report from 2005 that provides a vivid description of a firefighting operation that ends as a near miss event versus an injury because of one of the most important tools we carry, the handlight.

“Companies were dispatched to a working house fire. First company arrives on scene with heavy fire showing from a one-story, 1100 square foot house. One firefighter on first company, 4 person companies, has trouble with air pack in front yard and second firefighter takes attack line to front door in Division A. Second company assigned to take back-up line to assist with fire attack. Several things started going wrong from this point on…the house had been rigged to cause the firefighters to fail – a refrigerator blocking the entrance, furniture moved around, etc.. Nozzleman on first attack line was planted inside front door and would not advance. Third company was assigned to conduct a primary search…These two come upon a door leading to the C Division of the house and realize this room is fully involved. The officer finds the nozzleman off of the first company and directs him to the door. The door is opened for him and as he opens the nozzle, unbeknownst to the officer and firefighter off of the third company the stream slams the door shut. At this time the structural integrity of the house is being questioned…Simultaneously, the nozzleman from the first company has dropped the nozzle and exited the structure without letting anyone know. This has left the nozzle at the feet of the officer and firefighter off of the third company but they are not aware of this…At this time the only firefighters left are the two firefighters and officer off of the third company… the second company had gotten frustrated with the lack of advancement in the front door and decides to take their line around to the D Division and enter there to try to extinguish the fire. They do not realize a company is still inside. As the third company starts to exit the structure, the second company opens their stream in the attic pushing the fire through the opening made by the first firefighter on the third company. The entire room lights off and one firefighter dives out of the front door while the other firefighter and officer dive to the floor. After some minor disorientation, the two are able to find the door due to the first firefighter shining his handlight in the door.

The “controlled chaos” that accompanies fireground operations can range from a noisy symphony warming up for a flawless performance to a complete three ring circus.This week’s featured report describes an incident where companies are aggressively attacking a fire in an environment that is not only exceedingly threatening from the combustion standpoint, but doubly hostile due to “booby traps” set that impede operations. We can imagine the confusion the crews experience as they first encounter limited visibility and high heat, stumble over the snares, fumble into each other and get caught by the room lighting up from the push from the opposing hoseline. The disorientation at the end is the natural result of the preceding tumult. If not for the handlight at the door, the escape may not have taken place. Read the complete report by CLICKING HERE, then consider the following:

  1. What attack method does your department use (e.g., the three-line concept, unburned side, burned side, etc.)?

  2. Who controls the point of entry for attack crews in your department?

  3. Do your operations include a clearly defined preparation of the building prior to entry (i.e., vent and allow the building to breathe before the attack line goes through the door, paths of egress created and clearly marked)?

  4. What steps are put in place to provide directions to points of egress (e.g., handlights positioned at doorways and windows)?

  5. How would you maintain orientation in a similar incident?

Had a near miss during a fast moving fire attack? Submit your report to today. Yesterday’s lessons are tomorrow’s way out.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports. is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Founding dollars were also provided by Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. The project is managed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and supported by in mutual dedication to firefighter safety and survival.