Fire Chief Saves a Life: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

By Billy Goldfeder

So this may be debated all over the table–but the fact is that this District Fire Chief (who coincidentally is retiring at the end of the month) saved a baby’s life. A non-breathing trapped in a working house fire unconscious baby who was rescued, treated and is now back home. 

Ottawa, Canada District Chief Don Smith was wearing only his uniform dress shirt and pants. But there was a little girl missing, trapped in a smoke-filled apartment. “You do what you have to do,” he said later. He, along with a civilian went straight in.

-But he shoulda geared up!

-But he shoulda had an SCBA!

-But he coulda had tools!

-But he shoulda waited!

-But he should’ve had a small pump in his buggy.


Chief Smith was the only firefighter at the working apartment fire last Saturday, because the members from his firehouse were on another fire call. Companies from the next due firehouses (or fire-halls as sometimes referred to by the brothers and sisters up north) hadn’t arrived yet. Chief Smith entered the apartment fire four times and 3 times he was forced to back out. The fourth time he rolled out with a little 2 year old girl named Neva. 

An unconscious and not breathing little 2 year old girl named Neva. Chief Smith immediately started life saving measures. It worked. He should’ved, could’ved and did’ved. 

The fact is that his 36 plus years of experience and training told Chief Don Smith, based upon HIS size-up to do what he felt was best at that time-at that exact moment…and it worked. He knew he had gear-but he also knew that time, literally seconds, were critical-he sized it up and decided that-based upon those years of experience-to do what he felt was best at the moment. He lived and the unconscious non-breathing child lived.

That’s the bottom line.

So now does that give any of us a “pass” to not gear up. 

Not use an SCBA. 

Not have staffing. 

Not wait. 

Of course not-don’t be a moroon. However-the reality is that there may be that “once in a lifetime” rare situation where you as a chief-commanding an incident-you as a company officer leading a crew-you as a firefighter with no backup-may have to do something that, based upon your size up-may very well have a great outcome. 

While clearly Don Smith is a hero and made a huge difference, he did have something with him that helped him survive.

Training and experience.

While experience simply comes with time, training comes (or can come–it’s up to us) each and everyday. From the simplicity of the truck room floor using the exact tools you will be using when the bells go off-to the most futurist classroom scenario–all of it–ALL of it is a part of us “fully loading our guns” for when all that “stuff” may be needed. 

It’s the combination of experience and training that allowed Chief Don Smith make a difference at that fire last Saturday. He made it home. Neva made it home and Don Smith’s dry cleaner made some extra cash. It’s a good day. Congrats.

HERE is the article and video about the incident:

BILLY GOLDFEDER, EFO, Billy Goldfederis deputy chief of the Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter since 1973, a company officer since 1979, and a chief officer since 1982. He serves on the International Association of Fire Chiefs board of directors, the September 11th Families Association, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He has taught at FDIC for 30-plus years and is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board and the FDIC executive advisory board. He writes the “Nozzlehead” column for FireRescue magazine and is in charge of

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