We had just came on duty. The alarm went off for a house on fire in our first response area. My engine responded with myself and two firefighters. We pulled onto the street and could see heavy fire venting from a window on the south side of the house. We were approaching the house from the south. Our first alarm assignement is three engine companies and a chiefs car. Each engine has 2 firefighters and an officer. The chiefs car has the chief and a driver. Our normal procedure is for the first in engine to make a direct attack on the fire. The second engine supplies water to the first engine. The third engine becomes the 2 out crew. The chiefs car driver normally ends up with the first in engine crew. As of right now, the chief calls for a ladder truck if he thinks it will be necessary.
Upon arrival we had a what looked like a one story house. Later we found there was a stairway leading to the attic, or upstairs room. The fire had vented itself out a window on the south side of the house. My plugman stretched the line while I grabbed a halligan tool. The chiefs car driver met us on the porch. We had a window on each side of the front door. My thought at that time was, since we knew where the fire was, had a charged line and crew ready, was to take those two windows out. I took them out and then forced the front door. My crew then made entry. I had a probationary firefighter, a 10 year firefighter and myself with 14 years. We could not see any fire as we made our way through the house. We encountered some heat but were still able to stay on our kness. As we went through I found a window and took it out. We found the fire at about the sametime. We were having trouble making the final push into the room. My nozzleman stated he felt a lot of heat. The chiefs car driver was wanting a turn on the nozzle. I started to have them switch places when we began recieving messages on the radio to back out. We were still able to stay on our knees. I kept thinking, one more push and we would be in and knock the fire down. That is when we recieved Emergency Mayday messages to clear the building and the chief sounded the airhorns on the trucks. We bailed out the window I had just taken out. A Capt. on the scene could see us in the room and yelled for us to exit at that window. We bailed out and walked around to the front of the house. At that time, the entire front end of the house was nothing but fire. The door we had entered in was fire from top to bottom.
What lessons did I learn from that fire?
First of all, as we all know, no fire is routine. But even knowing that, I was thinking a room and contents fire. Go in, put the fire out and be back to the house in a hour or two at most.
Secondly, when you are told to get out of the building do so. The people on the outside see a lot more than you do. Even though we were able to stay on our knees and only experienced high heat when we found the fire. The fire had cut us off from both the front and rear exits of the house. There was only one minute from the first order to back out until we were clear of the building. Had we tried another push we could have had serious injuries to my crew or worse. It was bad enough that my nozzleman recieved burns to his ears even though he had his hood in place. The window I took out was the only way out of the building when we exited. The layout of the house was deceiving. I figured we would go in, make a left find the fire and put it out. That is what the size-up from the outside told me. In reality, the fire was in the middle of the house in a room with access from a room at either end of the house. We had crawled past the fire and found it in the kitchen where it had extended. The fire came in behind us by traveling from the room of origin through a bedroom and then to the living room where we had entered. Venting the windows and the wind being out of the south that morning, I believe let the fire come in behind us and block our way out. Had we followed our hoseline, we would have crawled into more fire.
I have thought about this fire a lot. I did nothing different on this fire than I have on any other fire under similar circumstances. Was venting wrong? I am not sure…in this case it seems so. I believe the wind pushed the fire through the rooms and enabled it to get behind us. Taking windows out as you go through a structure is a good idea. But be sure to take them completey out. I have seen sashes, drapes, blinds all left in place. If I had left the sash or anything else it would have delayed our exiting the building. This was a simple fire or so it seemed. It almost turned deadly for my crew and I.
Our department is a paid dept. Manning on an engine is an officer, driver and a plugman. Response to a first alarm is 3 engines, a chiefs car and depending on the type of structure a truck company. On a residential fire such as this one, the truck company is not on the first alarm.