Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Part Two

Sorry to have to do this in multiple parts, but it was getting long.

The fire had started at the water heater. The water heater was located in a little closet just inside the door to the garage. When we arrived out front, the garage was fully on fire. The garage was also where the pull down stairs to the garage were. Shortly after we arrived, the fire had made its' way into the attic and was burning above us.

We didn't know.

As engine 11 arrived and pulled a second line, I was inside trying my best to become part of the floor. The heat was increasing. Engine 11 came inside with another line and began to attack the fire with me.

Outside, the Battalion Chief had ordered the truck company to open the roof. He had also ordered the garage door be taken down to provide an opening. As crews laddered the roof, the fire vented itself. Flames broke through the roof from the attic. The attic space was heavily involved in fire. In this style home, and this one in particular, the attic space is used to hold the air conditioning and heating units. As this was a rather large home, it had a rather large air conditioning and heat unit in the attic.

The crew from engine 11 had a line and was attacking the fire the same way I was, from low on the floor. The Captain on engine 11 was on the radio yelling for more hose lines inside. What we couldn't see was the roof sagging.

The crews on the roof had just finished their hole, when the roof began to sag. Someone saw it and ordered them down fast. Because the roof was supported by wooden trusses, the internal ceiling was sagging too. The problem was the excessive weight of the A/C units in the attic. Because of the design of a truss, it doesn't gradually fail. When it fails, it is fast and catastrophic failure.

That's what was happening above us.

Inside we were making no headway on the fire. We weren't fully aware that the fire had made it into the attic and was fully in control there. My low air alarm was gong off now, so I told the Capt. on Engine 11 I was alone, and going out. He said OK, and moved to take over my line. That was when we heard shouts from outside to "Get out! Get out! Get out!". Air horns went off, the universal signal to evacuate. I knew that the front door was to my rear and left. As I started to move that way, the attic and roof fell.

I was actually about in the archway between the living room and the dining room. The ceiling and heat/air units fell in on the living room, just a few feet to my left. It sounded like the whole world was caving in. When it fell, it pushed some heat an fire on top of us for just a second. I could hear people yelling to get out. I found out later that from outside, it looked as though the whole thing had fallen right on top of us. The guys outside were concerned.

I was a bit concerned myself.

There was a window in the dining room. It lead to the driveway, and the firefighter from Engine 11 was near it. He broke it out, and yelled for us to follow him out of it. In the confusion, the Captain on Engine 11 climbed over me to get to the window. He went out, then the firefighter on Engine 11. People outside were running to help pull them out the window. They were asking where I was.

The Captain told them I went out the front door. They said no, nobody came out the front, that's where the collapse was. They thought I was trapped.

It took me about five or ten seconds to find the window and start out. Start out, right. I dove! On the way out I was grabbed and pulled into the driveway. It took a few seconds for everyone to figure out that we were all out.

After that, the fire went defensive. That is to say nobody went in to fight it, everyone stayed outside. The entire center of the house burnt out.

Myself, my lieutenant and the other firefighter all went to the yard of the house next door for a break. The crew from Engine 11 went over also. The paramedics on duty came over to check us, as well as the Chief. They looked at me and asked how my face was. I was so tired and happy to be out I didn't realize they could see the burn. My mask protected my face, and my hood protected my head. But the strap to hang my mask on had held my hood open just a bit and the fire that engulfed me when I opened the door had burnt me around the outside of my face. I had burns from about the level of my earlobes around and across my forehead.

One of the investigators happened to be there and took some really good photos of the fire. He had one of me coming out the window, and one of me just after getting out with just my mask and helmet off. I'm trying to get another copy.

I was sent home. I was taken from the fire scene back to the station to get my stuff and go home. I was supposed to call my wife and tell her. But that's not the sort of phone call she wants to get, or I wanted to make. I went straight home and walked in the house while she was visiting with a friend of hers. She looked up and said "What's wrong?" Nothing I said. "What happened to your face?"

By the time I had gotten home, the area around the outside of my face was bright read, with just a little blister on the temples. It wasn't a very big area, but it hurt like hell!

I'll work on the lessons learned and post them next time.

Mr Fixit

1 comment:

BobG said...

Damn! Dodging a bullet like that (metaphorically speaking) makes you sort of look at life a little different, doesn't it?