In the early winter of 2003, my fire company responded to a multiple alarm building fire, mutual aid. Shortly after entering the building with rest of my crew, we relieved a team in the room where we thought the fire started. The previous team failed to tell us that the fire had actually started below us and that the fire had burned through sections of the floor. The room had flashed-over, and was blackened from floor to ceiling. Most of the furniture and other items were piled on the floor in blackened heaps and still burning.
I moved to a corner to pull down some burning crown molding. As I yanked it down, I fell through the floor up to my armpits and SCBA bottle. Although the rest of my team was only a few feet away, they weren’t looking at me when I fell, so it was like I disappeared into the debris on the floor. I was so surprised that I was unable to call for help for a few seconds. After a few moments, a firefighter saw me struggling and grabbed my arm. Seconds later, another firefigher also rushed up and grabbed me.
In retrospect, this was very dangerous for all of us. The floor was obviously already weakened, and both firefighters are over 200 lbs without their firefighting gear.
It took several pulls before they were able to get me out of the floor. We were all in full SCBA and turnout gear and the room was full of smoke, so it was difficult to communicate (not to mention I as sceaming!). There was a RIT team from my department outside, and they quickly went into operation to assist. By the time they reached the room I was out of the floor and heading outside.
Both of my Brother Firefighters received commendations from the State for their actions, and I spent the night in the hospital. When I fell through the floor, it was like falling through thin ice. Everything I tried to grab just made the hole bigger. My 4’ceiling rake fell across the hole and helped me keep from going any further. The first team in the room knew there were soft spots in the room, but did not communicate this to their relief. I was in the room less than two minutes before I broke through the floor. They should have warned us and pointed out the dangerous locations, or evacuated the room. If I had fallen through, I probably would not have been killed, but it would have really hurt falling 12′ onto a concrete floor.
There were several good lessons on teamwork, communication and safety in this event. Hope it can help someone else.