At approximately 0330 hrs, on November 23, 2006, our small rural fire dept was dispatched to a chimney fire that had spread to the rest of the house. Our acting fire chief saw a glow in the sky approx. 2 miles away and immediately called for mutual aid and advised all personnel the fire was through the roof. The structure was a newly built, 2 story lightweight constructed house with a full basement with approximately 3000 square feet per floor. Our first in engine arrived with an engineer and three firefighters on board. Of the three firefighters, one had nine years experience, and the other two had just finished firefighter 1/2 class in June and had about two years experience. The acting chief assumed incident command and requested water tankers and manpower from two neighboring depts. I arrived next in my personal vehicle and geared up. As I was donning my scba, I observed the A side of the structure and fire coming from the D side gable end and rapidly progressing through the attic towards the B side gable end. There was a ridge vent and noticed fire coming from the ridge vent almost half the distance of the roof line. There was a 35′ ground ladder placed on the A side to a small porch roof just beneath the second floor windows. One firefighter was at the A side front porch with an scba on and had already advanced an 1 3/4″ attack line to the door. The other two firefighters went to the C side of the structure. I made contact with the homeowner in the front yard and he advised everyone was out of the house. The IC came to me and told me and the other firefighter to advance to the second floor and “do what you can to stop this thing”. As we made entry with the 1 3/4″ attack line, the visibility was perfect on the first floor and the stairway was just inside the front door. This house had a vaulted type “open concept” living room with the ceiling stopping at the attic floor and stairway. As we advanced up the stairway, there was a medium haze of smoke in the second floor. Visibility was still very good, but enough smoke was present to burn your eyes so we plugged in our regulators at the top of the stairway. We encountered a hallway at the top of the stairs leading to the D-B sides of the house. We went to the left, “D” side into a bedroom of about 13’x13′ dimensions. We put our short pike pole through the drywall ceiling and made a 2′ diameter hole. Heavy fire was blowing horizontally through the attic. I put the nozzle on a wide fog pattern and stuck it up through the hole in an attempt to indirectly attack the fire with steam. This had no effect at all. I then retrieved the nozzle and put it on a straight stream and stuck it back into the hole and let it flail about inside the attic to stop the advancing fire. This seamed to have little to no effect on the fire conditions. My partner made a second hole by this time about 3′ away from the first hole as an inspection hole. The conditions did not change. As I pulled the nozzle out of the hole the second time, I saw a “gang nailer” shining in the reflection of the fire. Then reality hit me, this is a trussed roof! I told my partner we had less than five minutes to get out and to start picking up our tools and handline and head for the door. As we turned toward the door, I heard someone yell from the stairway area to get the hoseline out to the stairway. I saw a bright glow coming from the stairway area from my view still inside the bedroom. As we took the hoseline back to the stairway, I noticed another firefighter, whom I recognized as a 20+ year veteran in the fire service, on the stairway about halfway up as we rounded the corner of the room into the top of the stairway. All of the sudden, there was a loud crack. I saw what seamed like slow motion, the ceiling came down knocking that firefighter down the stairs and knocking us backwards about two feet. It was a lean to type collapse and luckily we were in the 3-4′ void. It did not knock us off of our feet, but was enough to knock us down to a low crouch. My partner immediately started breaking out the window right behind us in the hallway. I saw a window in the bedroom we had just came from and went back in there and took it out. My partner was only about five feet away smashing the window when I grabbed him and dragged him into that room and rapidly assisted him through the window onto a small porch ledge. As soon as he exited, I followed. As we came down the ladder that was placed for egress before we went in, I heard the IC yelling from the front door under the porch area that we have men trapped. As I got to the ground I immediately went to the front door and saw the firefighter that was knocked down the stairway exit. I asked him who he was with and he advised he was alone and coming to assist us. We then realized nobody else was in the structure and met the IC at the same time. Ic was handling the accountability and just about collapsed when he realized we had all made it out safely, scared to death, but safe.
I have been in the fire service for about fifteen years. I am an Instructor I and an Officer I. I have preached and been preached at about Truss construction. I have read most of Vincent Dunns articles, been yelled at by Billy Goldfedder. I drilled it into the heads of my partners firefighter I/II class they finished in June. I saw this was a lightweight constuction with heavy fire involvement in the attic. I put it in the back of my mind and didn’t allow for it to sink in until I saw the gang nailer in the attic. When I realized the deadly mistake I had just made, it was too late. Please, ALL firefighters reading this, Please take building construction to heart and don’t let operations and the “we can get this thing” attitude overwelm your basic training! The mistake I made nearly cost my young partners life as well as my own. It gave new meaning to the holiday Thanksgiving as I was standing there looking at this house in the daylight. I could’ve been spending the holidays still inside that house instead of with my family. Hard lesson to learn, but at least I am here to tell about it!