May Their Sacrifices Not Be in Vain: Lancaster (PA) Firefighter Near Miss Review

Lancaster online near miss


By Joe Pronesti

“But, above all; our proudest endeavor is to save lives of men-the work of God Himself. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even at the supreme sacrifice.”

The above is a paragraph from a powerful quote, from FDNY Chief of Department Edward Croker, circa 1911, which starts out by saying, “I have no ambition in this world but one and that is to be a fireman.” All these years later, it is still a powerful reminder about the true duties of our profession.

On February 18, 2013, the Lancaster (PA) Bureau of Fire (LBF) responded to a fire in a two-story row dwelling, which would reach a general alarm and heavily destroy the building. The first-floor kitchen area collapsed into the basement. This fire caused the death of a 39-year old female and a six-year old female child. Lt. Andre Kelley and his firefighter Tom Bender arrived on Lancaster E-3 to find heavy fire conditions and attempted to enter and save the reported victims trapped.

A flashover occurred, badly burning Kelley. Bender was able to make it out a window while fellow firefighters heroically battled heavy fire to get to the lieutenant and save his life. The following near-miss review and accompanying after-action report, written by two highly respected Philadelphia fire chiefs, should not be used in a negative way. I encourage you, the reader, to put yourself in the shoes of Kelley and Bender and then review the lessons and recommendations given in the report.

This seldom-reviewed and publicized report is one that many can relate to, as the fire department involved responded understaffed and was going through a series of cuts, a situation that is not at all unusual in today’s fire service.

These firefighters lived up to much of Chief Croker’s statement from long ago. Kelley and Bender should be applauded and their close call reviewed, studied, and shared by all.

Review the full incident via PowerPoint and after-action report HERE.

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Joe PronestiJOSEPH PRONESTI is a 26-year veteran of the Elyria (OH) Fire Department, where he is an assistant chief and shift commander. He is a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Executive Officer program and a lead instructor at the Cuyahoga (OH) County Community College Fire Academy. He is a contributor to fire service publications and sites, including Fire Engineering. He will be presenting a four-hour preconference classroom at FDIC International 2016 titled “Main Street Tactics and Strategies: Are You Ready?” He can be reached at

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