National Firefighter Near Miss Report: When an island isn’t an oasis

By Amanda McHenry
National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System

This week’s featured report was selected from reports submitted during the week of August 10, 2008. The report is one of the more lengthy reports, coming in at just under 2,300 words for the event narrative. A key element to this report is the exceptional detail provided by the reporter. There are a variety of elements that can be explored as you review this report. There are key elements of communication, decision making, situational awareness, strategy, tactics, reading smoke, and teamwork that should make for an in-depth look at your department’s culture, and your view of how you would respond to a similar incident.

“…I was the only one from my normal shift working that day. Only four months off probationary status, I had no clue that I was going to be tested on what I had learned one year earlier in the academy …At approximately 09:55am, Public Safety Communications (PSC) dispatched a box alarm [name deleted]. The assignment consisted of four engines, two ladder trucks, one rescue-squad and a battalion chief. …The lieutenant of Engine [1] told PSC, “…I’m on the scene with a two-story single-family dwelling, nothing evident. I am establishing [name deleted] command. …When I got to the tailboard of the engine, I noticed light brown smoke coming from a roof vent. At this time, I was thinking we possibly had a small room with contents fire on the second floor. I got to the Alpha/Delta corner of the house and noticed more brown smoke coming from a crack on the side of a basement window. Once I relayed this information to the lieutenant, I started to think of basement fire operations. Just before we made entry, Chief [1] arrived on scene and took command. Realizing his third-due special service in charge of Rapid Intervention was understaffed with two personnel, he requested an additional engine and truck company for the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT). Just as the forcible entry person opened the unlocked door, the second-due engine was starting to pull the backup line from Engine [1]. Engine [1] crew was met with a hazy blackish-brown smoke from ceiling to floor. Seeing this made me start to think that the fire had either smoldered itself out or that it was deeply seated in the house, like most basement fires. Knowing that the lieutenant and I were on the same page, we needed to find the basement stairs. As I advanced my line on the first floor with zero visibility, I asked the lieutenant if he had anything on the thermal imager. He responded, “No, everything is white”. I decided to point my nozzle to the ceiling and open it to see how hot it really was. To my surprise, only a little water came back down. As I advanced my line, I felt heat to my left and saw fire. Thinking I ended up in a closet, I opened my line and knocked most of my fire. I yelled back to my lieutenant that I thought I found the seat of the fire and that I needed more line to get around a corner. Little did I know at the time, the forcible entry person went back to the front door to make sure the door had not shut on the hoseline. While on my knees pulling line I felt a sudden drop and no longer felt the hose in my hands…”

“Lazy, blackish-brown smoke…”also, “…and everything is white…” screen on a TIC add up to a set of criteria in the fire behavior world that speaks to an increasingly dangerous situation that needs to be recognized and addressed immediately. Read the rest of the report HERE, then consider the following:

1. How many hours of training have you or your officer had on using a thermal imaging camera?
2. “Lazy, blackish-brown smoke” fits into what category of burn: “growth,” “fully developed,” or “decay”?
3. Given your answer to #2, what hoseline would you select to take with you and why?
4. When, how and where would you ventilate a structure exhibiting “lazy, blackish-brown smoke” showing from the roof line and basement windows?
5. Does the scenario in 08-375 call for any special considerations for the rapid intervention team?

Encountered smoke conditions on arrival that were deceptive? Tell today.

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.

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