by MICHAEL N. CIAMPO
Over the course of your career, you had better get used to the information you receive from the 911 caller, the bystander, or the person fleeing the scene being a little misleading. There are going to be times when civilians get right in your face and give you information on what they perceive to be the facts. Their voice and facial expressions will be so convincing that you take everything they say as the truth. In many instances, you follow up on the information they provide, and it turns out to be misleading or false.
As we pulled into the block and got a whiff, we knew we had a job. Approaching the corner building from the opposite side with the tower ladder, the chauffeur had the sense to slow down on his approach to get a view of the side of the building on the way in. Seeing smoke pushing and rolling into the alley, he stopped the rig with the turntable in line with the alleyway and began his size-up with a quick visual trip into the side yard.
The corner building may dictate parking there to cover two sides of the building with the bucket; for rescues and removals; for more windows to perform vent-enter-search operations; and for more places to deliver master streams. Once he realized the fire was in a rear apartment out of the reach of the ladder and the building was isolated, he repositioned the apparatus to cover the large frontage, allowing the roof firefighter to take the bucket to the roof with his tools and saw.
Climbing to the top floor to the reported fire apartment and closing some of the chocked-open smoke doors on the floors below, one of us knocked on the door of the apartment directly below to see if we could get a quick layout. No one answered, so we quickly regrouped as a team on the top floor as a civilian came barreling down the stairs out of the haze of smoke lingering on the top floor. The engine officer, who arrived prior to us, informed us that the man who was coming down the stairs said, “It’s the first room to the left.” We tried the doorknob, and it was unlocked; the thick brown smoke began to drift into the hallway when we opened the door. We closed it and masked up, noting that the fire might be in the walls because of the color of the smoke and which way we would split the team to perform our search and control the fire with our pressurized water extinguisher.
As we moved in, much to our surprise, the information relayed to us wasn’t accurate as to where the fire was. Now, we were in a bit of a scramble to locate the seat of the fire.
There wasn’t a lot of heat in the apartment, and the smoke was still pretty heavy. We used the thermal imaging camera (TIC) on the walls and ceilings to see if the fire was already in the cockloft. Working on the lefthand wall to locate the fire room, we first found a bedroom with a locked door and forced it open. The room had moderate smoke in it, and we quickly performed a primary search; sweeping the bed and searching beneath it and in the closet all proved negative.
Leaving this room, we found a larger-than-normal space in the middle of the hallway, which was a little weird for a typical apartment layout. One of us found a narrow hallway off this area, and the hallway’s first door on the left was closed. As a firefighter opened it, the flames immediately began to come out over our heads.
We had located the seat of the fire, which was controlled behind the door, but we still hadn’t performed a search of the room. Slowly opening the door, the firefighter operating the water can quickly gave the ceiling a full stream water pattern, going back and forth in the top of the doorframe; this held the fire back and knocked some of it down, allowing us to see the bed about three feet away.
The fire was running up two walls and across the ceiling, so we could enter the room and quickly sweep the bed. We tried this tactic twice, sweeping under the bed on the second entry while the water can was being deployed to knock down more fire. Some may say this is a bit of an overaggressive tactic, but the large comforter, numerous pillows, and clothes strewn all over the bed can hide any size individual who may be taking a nap on it. Plus, knowing the capabilities of the pressurized water can and the firefighter using it can lead to a successful rescue vs. finding someone on the secondary search. We didn’t locate anyone in the room, and we saved the water can in case there was a delay in the hoseline reaching the fire room.
We backed out of the room and closed its door to contain the fire to one room, realizing it wasn’t a “can job.” Waiting on the hoseline, one member went back to instruct the engine how to get to the reported “room on the left” while another member made an inspection hole in the ceiling to check the cockloft for fire extension. The roof team had already made a triangular inspection cut in the roof and reported no fire—only smoke in the cockloft—but we still wanted to be sure it wasn’t in some other bay above us.
Remember, the TIC may not always pick up the heat source above you if you have a thick layer or multiple layers of insulation. Once the fire was extinguished and the smoke cleared, we all chuckled about our report of the first room on the left from our informative civilian.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on .