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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Structure Fire

"Medic Engine 461, Engine 3582, Medic Engine121, Ambulance 121, Riverside County Medic Engine 37...structure fire."

Eric and I were the only one staffing Medic Engine 461 this day. We were just clearing from a smoke investigation call (which turned out to be nothing) and headed back to the highway when we heard this call go out for us. We immediately stopped the engine, bailed out, and jumped into our turnouts. As we turned onto the highway we could see the smoke. Our Fire Marshal was driving the water tender to the previous call. When the structure fire call came out he was literally around the corner from the fire. He called dispatch on the radio and reported a single story residence with heavy involvement (meaning it was burning good).

As we approached the scene Eric told me to tag the hydrant with a 4" line. As he slowed down I jumped out. In under a minute the engine was driving down the street toward the house. As I started to connect the hose to the hydrant a city board member came running up to me and told me he would take care of it and that I was needed at the engine now! I ran about 300 feet to the engine and was met by Eric yelling that there was a rescue. Normally firefighters (at least in California) follow a 2 in 2 out rule. This means that in order to "go interior" or enter the burning building, there must be two firefighters going inside and two firefighters outside just in case something goes wrong. The only time that this rule is broken is when there are reports that there may be a person still inside the burning building. I quickly grabbed the 1 3/4" preconnect (an 1 3/4 inch hose that is already connected to the engine so all we have to do is pull it to the fire and flow water) and hustled for the door. As I was masking up a plume of dark smoke blew into my face. That was the first time that I have encountered smoke like that and I won't soon forget it. It burned. After masking up we tried to make entrance to the building through the front door. It was so hot that as soon as we moved the stream of water, that area would immediately reignite. We decided to try the back door. It led us into the back bedroom which was also ablaze. Smoke was almost down to my knees. Eric yelled at me, "get in there!" We got down on our hands and knees and crawled in.

It's a strange world inside a burning building. There is so much smoke that you can't see. You grope your way around trying to figure out what is around you while looking/feeling for a person. The heat from the fire forces you to get low to the ground. When the water hits the fire it turns into steam. The steam brings the heat level in the room lower so you are forced to crawl a little lower. You can see a large orange glow in the direction of the fire. Fires also crackle. I'm sure most people have heard a camp fire crackle. Imagine that inside a room, and a lot louder.

We crawled inside the back bedroom and knocked down the fire. We did a rapid search of that room while advancing. On my right I found a hallway that led past the kitchen to the front room. That hallway was really hot and I could see the orange glow somewhere on the other end of it. I started to put water on it from where I was. Around this time a burning piece of the ceiling fell on my head. Thank goodness for helmets.

At this point Eric and I were running low on air so we backed out. He ran to the engine to swap out his air tank and to grab one for me. When he got to the engine he noticed that CalFire Engine 3582 was on scene and their firefighter were masking up. They set up some horizontal ventilation and attacked through the front. We continued through that back. Medic Engine and Medic Ambulance 121 (from San Bernardino County Fire) and Medic Engine 37 (from Riverside County Fire) also showed up. Within a couple of minute we had the fire extinguished. After a secondary check we determined that there was no one inside. The neighbors, we discovered later, had pulled the kid with down syndrome out.

We spent the next 4 hours there doing an investigation, overhauling the place (removing everything that burned and trying to salvage what we could for the family), and cleaning it up some. It took another 3-4 hours of cleaning back at the station to get all of our equipment clean and put away.
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