Article and photos by Jerry Knapp
Captain Bill Gustin from the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire-Rescue suggested I read the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report (#2010-10, 13 Sept 2010) describing a recent house fire that flashed over, killing one firefighter and injuring another. Bill is one of our nation’s fire service leaders and visionaries, and the value of his advice to read this and other NIOSH reports cannot be overstated. From these concise reports, we can all learn important fireground considerations that often determine if firefighters live or die during a fire attack operation. The reports are available free from NIOSH on its Web site. These reports should be a routine part of your annual training plan. NIOSH reports offer an excellent way to share lessons learned (the hard way!) so we don’t make the same fatal mistakes. It is a great way to share valuable experience.
Executive SummaryOn March 30, 2010, a 28-year-old male career firefighter/paramedic (victim) died and a 21-year-old female part-time firefighter/paramedic was injured when caught in an apparent flashover while operating a hoseline within a residence. Units arrived on scene to find heavy fire conditions at the rear of a house and moderate smoke conditions within the uninvolved areas of the house. A search and rescue crew had made entry into the house to search for a civilian who was entrapped at the rear of the house. The victim, the injured firefighter/paramedic, and a third firefighter made entry into the home with a charged 2½-inch hoseline. Thick, black rolling smoke banked down to knee level after the hoseline was advanced 12 feet into the kitchen area. While ventilation activities were occurring, the search and rescue crew observed fire rolling across the ceiling within the smoke. They immediately yelled to the hoseline crew to “get out.” The search and rescue crew were able to exit the structure safely, then returned to rescue the injured firefighter/paramedic first and then the victim. The victim was found wrapped in the 2½-inch hoseline that had ruptured, and without his face piece on. He was quickly brought out of the structure, received medical care on scene, and was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
- Ensure that a complete 360-degree situational size-up is conducted on dwelling fires andothers, where it is physically possible, and ensure that a risk-versus-gain analysis and a survivability profile for trapped occupants is conducted prior to committing to interior firefighting operations.
- Ensure that firefighters and officers have a sound understanding of fire behavior and the ability to recognize indicators of fire development and the potential for extreme fire behavior.
At this point in the fire, a 360-degree size-up of the fire building was not completed. If you look closely on the left side of the photo, the exposure, a white house, is illuminated by the flames from the rear of the involved home. These flames were masked by the front of the house and the heavy smoke. It was completely impossible to see from the front that the double-deck rear porches were fully involved in fire. A hoarder lived in this home, and the decks were filled with things the occupant just could not part with, and now these objects were burning furiously.
- Intense heat
- Free burning fire
- Dense smoke
- Rollover (late sign)
- Vent point ignition (late sign)
While teaching a flashover survival program in St Louis, Missouri, several years ago, a veteran firefighter asked me, “Don’t we see those conditions at every fire?” I answered,
“You have to expect flashover at every fire, since it is the natural life cycle of a structure fire.”
So yes, expect flashover at every fire. If it does not happen, all the better. If it does, you are already prepared to survive.