Bad weekend. Here are two updates and an initial report as follows:
1-FF DOWN: West Whiteland FD, PA.
Initial reports are that a firefighter directing traffic at the scene of a house fire collapsed and went into cardiac arrest this afternoon. I have no additional information at this time.
2-UPDATE: (CLOSE CALL) Prince Frederick, Calvert County, MD, Station #2.
Basic, initial details are that the fire was reported in the basement in a single family dwelling, light smoke reported on arrival (all occupants out) with 2 engines and a truck on the scene with more companies enroute (30+ firefighters total) as a part of their standard 1st alarm assignment for a dwelling fire. At an early point on-2 firefighters came out w/burns and another firefighter trapped, who made it to a basement window, and was seen by exterior truck crews who rescued him from that basement window. The 2 firefighters who were burned were flown to Medstar (Washington DC) and are reported to be in stable conditions. More details to follow.
3-UPDATE: Lancaster, Mass.
These details are still sketchy but are from reliable fire officers whom I trust w/the info. The sources I spoke with advised that, on arrival, there was smoke showing, but nothing appearing unusually serious. The building is long and narrow, the firefighters were facing the narrow “A” side, with no obvious picture of the depth. As many as 15 civilians living there apparently all self evacuated. The firefighters stretched the line in, and went for the basement. There was a narrow 24″ +/- stairway, they made a “U” turn at the bottom heading towards rear of the house… then there was heavy fire… fire officials are still unsure what caused that. Either just after or just before, an evacuation is called for… 3 firefighters come out. Firefighter Martin McNamara did not. Roll call is taken they discover him missing, go back, cannot rescue him immediately due to heavy fire, his size and narrow stairway. That’s all that is available at this time.
-Below are two articles that, in my opinion, are pretty well done-especially for the PUBLIC to read-and understand the job.
-Go to www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com for a picture (home page, scroll down to NEWS/UPDATES) of the above and below described building on fire.
-Below the articles is a piece written by a good friend and TSL Member, Peter Lamb called “It Happened Again…” Pete is the Director of the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy. Check it out… and like all this stuff-EDUCATE your firefighters with it.
Our prayers go out to the family and friends of the West Whiteland Firefighter, and for the quick recovery of the Prince Frederick, MD Firefighters as well as the Clinton, MA, Deputy Fire Chief John McLaughlin who was upgraded from critical to serious condition last night at UMass.
Take Care, Be Careful…
The Secret List 11-30-03
Firefighter falls in inferno
By Laurel J. Sweet-Boston Herald
Sunday, November 30, 2003
LANCASTER – A doomed jake’s panic alarm chirping from the fiery core of a concrete hell was enough to convince Clinton Deputy Fire Chief John McLaughlin to disregard the empty oxygen tank strapped to his back.
Tempting suffocation in heat and smoke beneath a three-story wooden apartment house threatening to crush him, McLaughlin, 45 – a divorced father of two teens – fumbled in vain for Lancaster call firefighter Martin H. McNamara. Finally, beckoned to fresh air by brethren who could not bear to lose a second life, a near-dead “John Boy” McLaughlin had to be physically restrained on the ground where he collapsed.
“He was fighting them so much” to go back in, said Clinton Fire Capt. John McNamara, whose fallen cousin, Martin, became the first Lancaster firefighter killed in the line of duty in the town’s 350-year history.
“They could hear (Martin McNamara’s) PASS device,” John McNamara said of the body motion detector that sounds when a firefighter is down, “but they couldn’t get to him. They just couldn’t. From what I hear, the basement was overloaded with storage. Everything lit up and came crashing down.”
McLaughlin, who suffered smoke inhalation and exhaustion, remained hospitalized and sedated last night in serious condition.
Two other Clinton firefighters who’d been in the cellar, Terry Parker, 44, and Edward McNamara, 49, no relation to the deceased, escaped the early morning inferno that gutted a seven-family residence at 76 Mill St. and fortified the uncommon bond between two neighboring Central Massachusetts towns whose combined populations barely approach 20,000.
Flags were lowered to half-staff in both communities.
Martin McNamara, who shared a modest, charming home in Clinton minutes from the deadly blaze with his pregnant wife, Claire, and two daughters, ages 2 and 5, lived to see his 31st birthday Friday, but was waiting to celebrate the birth of his third child, due to arrive today.
Martin McNamara was a three-year veteran and one of 33 Lancaster call firefighters. “A firefighter was all he ever wanted to be,” John McNamara said.
Claire McNamara, a nail beautician who’d lovingly decorated their Maple Street home for Christmas, was in seclusion yesterday at the Clinton home of her husband’s parents, Martin, a manager for Weetabix Cereal and former Clinton selectman, and Joanne McNamara, a nurse at Clinton Hospital.
“Obviously, we’re devastated by the tragedy,” a visibly shell-shocked Martin McNamara told reporters outside the house where his son perished. “If there’s any consolation we can take from this, it’s that he died doing something he loved.”
While the cause of the wind-fed catastrophe remained undetermined last night, state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said authorities were investigating reports of a “series of explosions” occurring shortly after 3:15 a.m.
The white, gold and black dwelling had gas heat, according to residents and neighbors, but Coan cautioned there was no immediate reason to think gas was to blame.
“The initial report was for smoke in the basement with fire stretching to the first floor,” Coan said. “There was some kind of internal explosion that caused the fire to rapidly spread and there were reports of blue flame. The conditions turned very, very bad.”
Martin McNamara, he said, “just succumbed to the heat and fire conditions and the disorientation that occurs in a situation like that.”
Ironically, disorientation and being woken from a sound sleep is what Lamont Plowden, 26, a private high school history teacher, credits with saving his life.
Plowden, standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall in borrowed clothes and cradling a box of Nature Valley granola bars, said he was awakened by “a boom” that shook his bed.
Opening his apartment door and seeing the coast to the stairwell was clear, he ran back to his bed to grab his nylon Ralph Lauren Polo winter jacket. But during the estimated 15 seconds that elapsed, smoke blocked his escape and began seeping through the walls. Plowden ran to a fire escape and got out unharmed along with his fellow tenants.
The first time he saw flames, he said, they were a reflection in the windows of the house next door.
“I’m alive,” he said, staring back at his former home with a bittersweet smile. “Everything else that got burned, I’ll get by.”
John McNamara said, true to form, his late cousin was suited up and ready for action outside 76 Mill St. when Clinton firefighters arrived on scene. And when McLaughlin, Edward McNamara and Parker ran headlong into the burning basement with a hose, “Marty” McNamara picked up the slack and tagged behind.
But once down below, “They knew they were in trouble,” John
McNamara said. “(McLaughlin) yelled, `Everybody out!’ but the conditions deteriorated so fast that they got broken up.”
John McNamara said the men “were seconds from death” and McLaughlin, separated from the others, had made his way to the wrong staircase.
“Ed McNamara was screaming, `John Boy, we’re over here!’ ” he said, wiping away tears. “Right now we’re just hoping he makes it.”
Firefighter dies in house fire-Explosion heard when Lancaster blaze began
By Peter DeMarco, Boston Globe Correspondent, 11/30/2003
LANCASTER — As smoke billowed from the basement, Marty McNamara and fellow firefighters grabbed a hose and entered the front door of a Mill Street home early yesterday morning.
Minutes later, there was an explosion. Then possibly another. Firefighters outside the apartment house raced inside to rescue their colleagues.
Three firefighters, blinded by smoke, followed their hose to a basement stairwell, from which they were pulled to safety. But 31-year-old McNamara, a father of two with another child due this month, never made it to the stairwell. His body was recovered a short time later.
As Lancaster, a small Central Massachusetts town of 7,400, mourned its first death of a firefighter, Clinton firefighter John McLaughlin was listed in serious condition at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. Clinton firefighters Edward McNamara (no relation) and Terrence Parker, who also went into the basement, were taken to Clinton Hospital, where they were treated for exhaustion and released.
“Marty was the kind of son that every father and mother would ever want,” said his father, Martin McNamara. “He was a loving father, husband. I guess the only consolation we can take from it is that he died doing something that he loved to do.” “We were in Worcester, you know,” said Lancaster firefighter Pat Goodwin, referring to the 1999 warehouse fire that killed six firefighters. “We were there. It was that same feeling I never wanted to feel again. It’s unbelievable. All I can think about is this guy’s family. God bless them. Our prayers are with them.”
By daybreak, the 150-year-old multi-unit home lay in ruins, after all the residents escaped safely from the 3:40 a.m. blaze.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said investigators had not determined the cause of the fire. The home was heated by a natural gas furnace, and residents reported waking up to the sound of “a boom.” However, Coan said the blaze may have started prior to the explosions.
“Possibly, as that fire developed, there was a leak in the gas,” Coan said. “But I don’t want to speculate to any extent that it was the cause of the fire.”
Coan said firefighters followed proper protocols when fighting the blaze.
Because portions of the building continued to burn well into the day, fire officials and State Police were unable to begin examining the basement to determine the cause of the blaze until late afternoon. They expected to resume their investigation at 8 a.m. today.
Marty McNamara, a Clinton resident whose father and grandfather were former Clinton selectmen, hailed from a large family. Besides being an on-call firefighter, he was employed by a Sterling drilling company, and had two daughters, Molly, 5, and Elizabeth, 2, family and friends said. His wife, Claire, is nine months pregnant. McNamara celebrated his 31st birthday the day before.
Clinton Fire Department Captain John McNamara, Marty McNamara’s cousin, said his cousin’s goal was to become a full-time firefighter. “Preferably here in Clinton, but he would have gone anywhere for it,” he said. Others who knew McNamara said he was the kind of man “who would do anything for you.”
“Our main concern now is John McLaughlin,” said John McNamara, referring to the Clinton firefighter who was upgraded from critical to serious condition last night at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where he was treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. “We’re sweating that out. The first 48 hours are critical. Our prayers [are] with him. We lost one. We almost lost two.” Two of McNamara’s brothers-in-law, also firefighters, helped battle the blaze.
More than eight fire companies assisted the Lancaster department.
Lamont Plowden, 26, a history teacher at the Greater Boston Academy in Stoneham, who lived on the second floor of the house, said he was awakened at about 3:30 a.m. by “a boom.” Seconds later, the building’s fire alarms sounded.
Plowden walked into the hallway but noticed nothing unusual, so he said he returned to his bedroom to put on his winter coat to go outside. By the time he stepped back into the hallway, smoke had engulfed the entire stairwell. “It took me 15 seconds to walk back over to my bed, grab my jacket and walk back over to the door. Fifteen seconds. That’s how fast the smoke was,” he recalled. “As I was walking through my house to the fire escape, the smoke was coming out through my couch. I assume it was coming through the walls.”
Five other tenants, including the home’s owner, 82-year-old Loraine Moeckel, all made it to safety by the time firefighters arrived. As firefighters from Clinton and Lancaster raced through the large, 2 1/2-story home searching for occupants, others began venting the roof, battling fierce winds and a slight drizzle. “The first flames we saw, that was well after the first firefighters were here. We saw the first four go in. Then I know one guy came out. He was frantic. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he was yelling something,” Plowden said. “I know they pulled out two guys, one guy was on a stretcher, and they took him away. . . . I remember seeing one guy, they just put him at the base of the stairs and guys were taking off their equipment. I guess they were doing CPR.”
Firefighters made several attempts to rescue McNamara from the basement but the smoke was too thick. His body was pulled out shortly afterwards, with firefighters holding up green tarps to shield McNamara from onlookers, and he was loaded into a waiting ambulance, according to Heather Friske, a neighbor who lives across the street. “I thought his family was there. A chaplain [went] with them in the ambulance,” she said while staring out at the charred remains of the home as firefighters continued to douse the burning embers. “That poor guy right there, that firefighter from Shirley,” she said pointing to a nearby firefighter. “He came in to use the phone. They say men aren’t supposed to cry. Well, I saw several men bawling their eyes out. It was a hard day for them. Not only did they work hard, but they lost a brother.”
McNamara’s father, in a brief statement, thanked his community for its outpouring of support. “Every time you get a call like this you think about it. You just never think it’s going to be any of you own,” Goodwin said, holding back tears. “You’re always there for each other. But sometimes things happen and you can’t be. And that’s the worst feeling in the world.”
It Happened Again…
By Pete Lamb, Director, Massachusetts Firefighting Academy
This is a difficult time to write a commentary. As I sit before the screen today the events of one day ago are weighing way too heavy upon me.
The Town of Lancaster, Massachusetts has lost a firefighter at a structure fire yesterday. 3 other firefighters injured, one of them seriously. The seriously injured is a friend and a colleague.
The original fire building is destroyed, a family and a community or two has been devastated.
It was a basement fire.
Just as I started to write the article, I received word of two firefighters from Maryland being injured in a basement fire.
So what……There are probably 50-100 basement fires everyday across America. Firefighters go to basement fires.
What happened yesterday in Lancaster could happen anywhere in the US tomorrow. It is a sm
all town America, protected by a small group of dedicated firefighters.
I raise that point because frustration has gotten me to that point. I guess it really doesn’t matter that we kill 100 members a year in this country. I am sitting personally and emotionally drowning in the blood of my brothers because we believe that buildings are more important than us.
I take my job as an instructor very seriously and professionally and those that know me, know that all too well.
Isn’t there something that we as fire instructors can do to make a change in this deluge of death? Are we doing enough to change the way a firefighter, or fire officer thinks?
I was not at the scene of the emergency on Saturday Morning, but I think by it’s outcome we see that something went terribly wrong.
The formal investigation will take some time and find some facts, and there will be many stories of the heroism of other members who acted under difficult conditions. But to what end?
Hundreds will descend upon the town of Lancaster on Tuesday to pay tribute to a young man. Hundreds will send emails and condolences to a young widow who is 9 months pregnant.
What good will any of that do?
To make some good come out of any tragedy there must be tough and difficult decisions that must be made.
As fire officers and fire instructors be prepared and ready to make those decisions.
Make your training VALID, and RELEVANT. Stop teaching popular techniques that are “fun to teach” and good “hands on stuff” when you know that some of these techniques have only a marginal chance of success, and may create a false sense of confidence. Some of the CRAP we are teaching will not help anyone who has already crossed a very thin threshold of safety by some building failure, or other catastrophic event.
It takes “balls” to be a good instructor. Safety is not very popular. You will not be popular if you preach safety and instill it into every one of your evolution. If you are not ready to commit to that level of intestinal fortitude and you want to be popular with the guys, then keep headed the way you currently are. I suggest that you look at each and every training evolution you have and make sure the end objective is firefighter safety. If you cannot figure out why you are teaching a particular evolution or if there is no perceived safety benefit then change your thinking.
We as a fire service in this nation have spent tens of thousands of training hours across the national lecture circuits teaching “last resort” and rapid intervention techniques. It is time to stop. Let’s take our training back to preventing these “last resort” maneuvers. Focus on size up and air management training.
If the investigation yields and lessons to be learned, then please incorporate those into your department’s train in and sops.
If the investigation does not yield any information, then make sure your members are fully aware of the dangers and risks of basement fires and all structural fires.
As I typed those words, I shrugged my shoulders and re-read what I wrote….
How stupid am I? We have all read the NIOSH reports of many previous line of duty deaths and injuries already. In 10 years we have killed 1000 men and women, excluding the 343 from FDNY, so make it 1300.
We read the reports, we know the recommendations, we either don’t care, or we just don’t get it.
If you are from the Northeast area and will be attending the funeral, do not get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the flags, and class A uniforms and flag draped aerial ladders, but instead as you stand at attention and salute, focus your attention on the family, the mother and father and wife and children. As you listen to the strains and wails of the bagpipes that are all so present as we pay tribute to a brother firefighter, look at his family, and watch their pain and suffering, and tell me again how that now destroyed building was worth this.
Maybe then we will get it.
Stay safe, say a prayer or give your thoughts to the family of Firefighter Martin McNamara, and say a prayer or remember Deputy Chief John McLaughlin who is fighting to recover from injuries sustained.