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Monday, January 30, 2012

Working Structure Fire

Calls almost always seem to come in at the most unwanted times. For example, just as you sit down to dinner, or just as you dish up a bowl of ice cream, or when your baseball team is down by 2 in the bottom of the 9th with men in coring position. This time the tones interrupted a close championship football game.

The tones alerted us that we were responding to a structure fire. Most of the time we get suited up and go find out that it was only a malfunctioning alarm or burnt popcorn. So far we weren't too amped up.

We padded out to the apparatus bay and stepped into our bunker boots and pants. After sliding on the suspenders and throwing on our jackets we jumped on the rig. Seconds later, we heard engine 58 report that they had smoke showing from station 58 and declared a "working structure fire." In my department a working structure fire gets the first alarm assignment an extra engine and BC. As soon as we turned left out of the station we could see the header too.

Engine 58 pulled up on scene about 30 seconds before us. In their size up they said they had a single story single family residence with heavy smoke and fire showing and established IC. The thick black smoke was laying down on the ground instead of climbing high in the air. There must have been an inversion layer that day. PD was there first (I will refrain from making a cop wanting to be a firefighter joke at this time) and told engine 59 that they had 2 houses on fire with occupants possible trapped in the second.

We pulled up as the captain from 59 was determining that there was only one structure involved. My captain (assuming that he would be taking IC) told me to meet the captain from engine 59 and see where he needed help. He said that his firefighter was stretching a line in between the homes in case there was a rescue and that he wanted me to take a crosslay interior. No need to tell me twice.

As my captain and the captain from 59 talked I pulled the preconnected hose line. After stretching the line to the front door I started donning my mask and my crew joined me. Once masked up I opened the bail and expelled any air that was in the hose line and I also adjusted the nozzle to a straight stream. I then stepped through the open door into the thick black smoke.

Just inside the front door was an anteroom. The smoke was thick and banked all the way to the floor. But it was also cool. Carefully moving forward a couple of feet I discovered that the environment inside the rest of the house was drastically different. The fire had self ventilated (in simple terms it had burned through the roof allowing smoke and heat to escape) and I was now able to see all the way to the back bedroom. The room looked like the entrance to hell. Everything in the entire room was on fire. At least everything that hadn't already been turned to ash. The walls were burning as were the contents of the closet. What was left of the bed (and I assume clothes) formed a mountain of flaming ash on the floor. The doorway itself had flames crawling all the way around it. It was a very cool sight.

We advanced the hose line to the door. I opened the line up and knocked a large portion of the fire down. I then stepped inside. My engineer was right behind me backing me up. From the doorway he was pointing out where the fire was in the attic space. Every time he would look at me I was looking at the ground. He would yell, "Up there!!" What he didn't know was that I was standing knee deep in red hot coals. When I would take a second to hose down the fire in the attic my feet would start burning. It was toasty. So I would turn the nozzle at my feet (and the surrounding area) and drench it, before going back to battling the flames in the attic.

It's become sort of a running joke between us. He'll randomly say "up there" and I'll respond "my feet."

Once we had knocked down the fire in that bedroom we chased it around the attic. The crew from engine 60 came in to pull ceiling for us and we had a truck company on the roof making a pincher attack.

After burning through our second SCBA cylinder my engineer and I went outside to get a new ones. This process involves us turning off our BA and someone else disconnecting our bottle. They then replace the bottle with a new one. While we were waiting we noticed the paramedics from the private ambulance company that had shown up on standby. One had long blond hair and the other dark brunette hair. As my captain joined us we remarked how we were both now feeling "ill" and needed to take a ride to the hospital. After a good laugh it was back to work.

We went back inside. now that the fire was out we ensured that it would not rekindle. We covered nearly everything in the house in class A foam. It looked as if it had snowed inside. We would not be coming back that night.

Finally all that remained was engine 58 and us. We helped them load several hundred feet of 1 3/4" attack line and another 200' of 5" supply line. The much less glamorous part of a structure fire. After that, it was time to go back and see who had won the game.
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