Thursday, June 12, 2008

Small Fire / Big Potential (x's 2)

Small Fire / Big Potential

The other night we had what turned out to be a relatively small and ordinary fire in a house which was in renovation. At two different points during the fire, however, there was potential for catastrophic consequences – one known and one unknown.

We were dispatched to a reported dwelling fire in the Mt. Pleasant section of the city about 10:00 PM on a clear humid night. When we arrived on the scene of the reported address, we could see no signs of smoke or flame. While we were investigating, a neighbor from across the street, apparently the one who had called 911, approached us saying “mucho fuego” while pointing to the first floor of an unlit home. We looked in through the windows from the street and saw nothing. As we attempted to ask him if he was sure it was this house, he waved his arms in an upward motion, pointed to the house, and said, “Si, si”.

We made our way to the porch to peer into the living room via the front windows. When Tim tried to see into the house the window looked foggy. He attempted to wipe the outside of the window, but quickly pulled his hand back, “The window’s hot, we’ve got a fire in there”, he said. “Go get the line (hoseline)”, I barked. “Engine 15 to Fire Alarm, Code Red, 2-story, wood-frame, occupied, fire on the first floor.”

As Timmy came back with the line, I yelled to Ladder 6 as they pulled up that we needed a ladderman to open up the heavy front door. As Timmy stretched the hoseline to get it into position I told him to stay low and away from the windows. With a fire of this type it is very possible that the heat is building to extreme levels inside the house as the fire (which has already been burning) now smolders due to a lack of oxygen. If the windows break from the high heat and oxygen is introduced to the smoldering fire the result could be explosive – a backdraft.

We crouched together in front of the door as a couple of guys from L-6 began forcing the door. We were staying as low as possible because introducing the oxygen via the open door could have the same type of result. If we stayed low the fire would roll out the door above us.

The door was forced and the heat and thick smoke poured out of the building and enshrouded us on the porch, but no explosion. One potentially serious situation was now over and the incident became more of a routine fire. We made our way into the hallway and then into the living room very quickly and Tim directed the hose stream toward the growing glow to our right. It was hot, smoky and almost completely black. We crawled over debris on the floor and stumbled over furniture strewn about the room as we chased the only visible light in the room, extinguishing the fire before it could get grow to the size it had once been.

As Tim continued to wet and cool the area to avoid any chance of flare-ups I saw a bright glow from the corner of my eye, just about a foot to my left. I began to feel the heat of another area of fire growing quickly right next to us. I tapped Timmy on the left shoulder and yelled through the mask, “Over here, to your left!” He quickly turned to see the new area of fire and attempted to get the hoseline in position to knock it down but the line was caught on something in the dark. As he struggled with the hose we began to hear the fire crackle and pop as it fed on the debris on the floor. When he finally pulled the hoseline free and directed the stream at the fire it quickly darkened down, overpowered by the 125 gpm’s (gallons-per-minute) of water delivered by our line.

Once we had opened the door without incident this had been a relatively ordinary and small fire. Even the flare up of the debris next to us was never anything that was overly worrisome. After we had knocked down the fires we, along with members from other companies, began opening windows allowing the remaining heavy smoke to escape to the outside. The contents and layout of the house began to slowly come into view. It was then evident that this fire had burnt for quite a while before going into hibernation due to the lack of oxygen. The charring of the walls, ceiling and furniture all happened prior to our arrival. We had extinguished the rejuvenated fire before it could do further damage.

All in all this had been a successful operation for us. We had avoided a potentially serious situation and had knocked down the fire with minimal damage. It wasn’t until the fire investigator began to sift through the debris which had been burning about a foot away from Tim and I that he noticed that there was live ammunition scattered throughout the debris – a box of rifle shells and a bunch of loose .38 caliber shells!

The first potentially dangerous situation was avoided by recognizing the signs and properly gaining access to the building. Breaking the windows could have lead to disastrous consequences.

The second potentially dangerous situation was avoided by pure luck!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tommy, You Shit-Stirrer, You

Tommy, You Old Shit-Stirrer, You

The call came in as “a man unconscious”. Nothing special, just the same type of call I’ve responded to hundreds of times in the past. So I thought nothing special as we headed through garage door and sped toward the scene.

Pulling in front of a pitch-black house at 3:00 AM is nothing unusual either, despite the fact that someone here had dialed 911 with an apparent life threatening emergency. Sometimes people will meet us in front of the house screaming and waving hysterically and sometimes they forget to put their lights on or even unlock the door for us. Sometimes they even go back to bed!

We walked to the darkened doorway, wiping the sleep from our eyes, and rang the bell. Rescue 2 was on the way but wouldn’t arrive for another 2 to 3 minutes. When we didn’t get a reaction right away I began to pound on the front door, “Fire department”! A short time after that an 80 year old woman meekly cracked open the door looking like she had just been roused from a sound sleep. “Yes?”, she said. By this time I was beginning to think that we were at the wrong house. “Did you call 911, mam?” “Yes, come in.”

We followed her into an immaculate home as she began to guide us to the rear of the house. “He’s lying on the bathroom floor, and I don’t know if he’s breathing or not”, she said as she pointed to a closed door. “Tommy. Tommy, are you all right?”, she asked through the door. No response.

I moved her back to the living room as we tried to force the door open to gain entry to the bathroom. The door wasn’t locked, but it was being held shut by something on the inside. As I peeked in through the thin space we’d forced I could see his feet on the floor moving franticly to keep himself pressed up against the back of the door. “Tommy, open the door and let us in”, I said. At least we now knew that he wasn’t lying dead or unconscious on the bathroom floor. I walked into the living room to tell the old lady that he seemed fine and was moving on his own as my guys continued to try to gain access.

Around the same time Rescue 2 entered the home. When the door was forced open enough to get a good look at Tommy (the old lady’s 64 year old son) we saw that he was naked on the floor trying desperately to keep his body against the door to keep us out. He was not verbally responsive and seemed to be completely disoriented. And, he was literally full of shit!

It was all over the white tile floor, all over him, in his hair, his mouth, his eyes – everywhere! We sent a man out to the rescue to get towels and sheets as we regrouped in the hallway trying to decide how to handle him. As the FF returned with the towels we decided that the guy and girl from Rescue would wet the towels and try to wipe him down as well as possible under the circumstances while the two FF’s with me would hold him down with the sheets and attempt to wrap him up in them. While they were doing this I attempted to calm the mother down and lead her to a different side of the house and distract her while they struggled with Tommy.

As I attempted to ascertain a brief medical history from mom I found out that, as a child, Tommy had been struck in the head by a golf ball. Apparently he suffered from occasional bouts with dementia-like symptoms. In between these bouts he was, according to his mom, a normal man who held a job and had served in the military. Somehow it seemed even more pathetic that someone who reportedly lived his life in a normal manner could be reduced to this type of behavior at random.

As I kept mom’s attention in the kitchen I could see that they had him wrapped up in the sheets and were carrying him outside to the gurney awaiting his arrival on the sidewalk in front of the house. I told her that we would take good care of him and get him the help he needed at RI Hospital. As he was put on the stretcher and strapped in his mom came to the front door to wave goodbye. He was covered by the sheets with only his cleaned up face peeking through, so mom never saw what a mess he had made of himself. We didn’t want her to see him like that. It was bad enough that she was going to have to deal with the mess in the bathroom, but at least she didn’t have that mental picture sticking in her memory.