From the Firehouse: April 2022

From the Firehouse
By Jack Halchak Past Chief HFD
April 2022

The Hurleyville Fire Department is always looking to recruit new members. You can stop in on any Monday evening at 7 p.m. to get an application or to see what we are all about. If you do not want to fight fire, we can use fire police or you can work behind the scenes and support the front-line fire fighters. We do more than just fight fire. We even provide all your training and gear for free.
Hard to believe that it is already April. The snow was gone about a day and a half before we had our start to brush fire season. The wind was blowing pretty good for a few days in the third week of March and dried things out. It was windy and a few people were out burning their winter piles of sticks and it got away from them.
The BURN BAN is in effect from March 16 thru May 14.
There is NO open burning during this time period. Everything is dry and a glowing ember from a pile of burning branches is all it takes. Add a little wind and it is a brush fire. You can be fined $500 for a violation.
I have always talked about training in this column, and how important it is. I would like to relate an incident where training paid off, even saving the lives of the firefighters involved and the victims they rescued.
This was a room content fire (contents in the room burn and it does not spread) on the fifth floor of a five-story building. There was heavy black smoke filling the hallway of the fifth floor and, reportedly, people trapped. Firefighters could not see their hand in front of their faces. Two firefighters went into a non-fire room to do a search, and, as it turned out, to make a rescue. They needed help getting the victim out, and one of them went for help. The other firefighter stayed with the victim and shared his air with the victim. Command told them help was on the way and to keep the door closed and “shelter in place” (stay in the room where there was no fire, and they were safe). Another two firefighters went into the fire room to do a search. Again, they could not see their hand in front of their faces.
At some point, air was introduced into the room, and it flashed (this was an oxygen-starved fire, and the incomplete combustion was producing volatile gasses that ignited when the air was introduced into the room). One firefighter was close enough to the door and was pulled out to safety. The other firefighter was on the other side of the room near a window. The heat was so intense he was getting burned. He made a lifesaving decision to bail out the window with his bailout system. He tied off one end and went out the window (firefighters carry a rope and some type of device to tie off with). A ladder truck picked him off the side of the building.
The firefighter that was sheltering in place with a victim saw the firefighter hanging out the window. He transmitted a “MAYDAY” (firefighter is in trouble, needs help). I listened to the incident on my radio at home and in the 53 years in the fire service I never heard a firefighter call a MAYDAY. My hair stood on end, and I knew this was not good.
Many firefighters on the scene and at home were listening on their radios and all held their collective breaths. This was a life-threatening situation. Once the firefighter was in the bucket of the ladder truck the MAYDAY was canceled.
When the firefighter was on the ground, he was transported to the hospital and then transferred to the burn unit in Westchester.
The victim in the fire room was burned and flown to the burn unit in Westchester. The firefighter and victim in the non-fire room were able to leave the building uninjured once the smoke was cleared.
While all of this was going on, firefighters were doing a room-by-room search, floor-by-floor, to be assured all residents were out and safe
Training was key here, from the IC (incident commander) to all the firefighters involved. Tying off and bailing takes training, doing a search in heavy smoke takes training, running the ladder truck takes training, the IC giving commands takes training, FAST teams take training. I could go on, but you get the picture.
I was assigned to go to the hospital to help the injured firefighter with paperwork (it takes training to fill out the forms needed).
In the end all the residents and firefighters were accounted for.
I will end this column with a quote from Dennis Smith, who recently passed away. He was the founder and first editor of Firehouse Magazine and wrote “Report from Engine Co.82.”
Dennis said “Firefighters may be the most ubiquitous civil servants we have. Think of a natural or manmade disaster you might have seen on television or read about in the papers… and in every photo you see, every paragraph you read, there will be firefighters. Paid or volunteer, often at great personal risk, they are there, giving of themselves for others.”
Be Safe Out There.