Sunday, July 23, 2006

Out Of Control

Training Fire Gone Bad

by: Lou Angeli

Live FIRE training is by far the best way for a firefighter to be introduced to the enemy --to watch it grow, shape and take on a life of its own.

Even though you’re in a controlled environment, things can – and do – go wrong. After all, we ARE playing with fire! A few years ago, in what was planned as a training burn, my partner and I filmed what easily could have become a disaster.

Even though a protective hoseline had been positioned, we knew that the main attack line was only flowing about 100 gallons per minute – about enough to handle a trash fire in a small dumpster. It didn’t take an Einstein to figure out that this baby would take OFF! And take off FAST!

We filmed the ignition team lighting the fire – and within moments flames began rolling over the heavily timbered ceiling. (pause) It got real hot, real fast and a few firefighters escaped through the main stairwell. It had only been 15 seconds since the fire had been lit – but staying in place wasn’t an option. Jim and I baled out a second floor window! That’s me coming down the ladder.

From our fixed camera position, you can see that heavy smoke is already blowing out the 2nd floor windows. But what we didn’t know was that someone had used gasoline as an accelerant for this “training” blaze and that’s the biggest NO-NO in the firefighter training business.

My partner and I assumed that the INSIDE team had escaped through the main stairwell. But shortly after we reached the ground – we saw a lone firefighter come out of the same window that we’d just exited. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The firefighter on the roof was veteran, Anna Marsh, who had been working with the ignition team to prepare the fire room. Anna knew there were others firefighters still inside, and she fished for them by pulling in the hoseline – only to find an unopened nozzle. As she stood there in the window, Anna experienced a thermal bath of temperatures reaching 800 degrees. But she stayed there, unwilling to abandon the other two firefighters.

At that point I knew that Marsh had little time to escape – FLASHOVER – was imminent. shouted through my own mask to warn Marsh of the danger – but the heat and smoke had damaged the facepiece of her breathing mask -- and she had become totally disoriented.

Listening to instructions from a safety officer, Anna was able to feel her way to an escape ladder and make her way to safety just as the room flashed over with violent force. I’m still not sure what happened, but there was no way that a single hoseline would have ever dampened that blaze. Anna and her crew were lucky to get out alive!!!!

I was with Anna on the fireground immediately afterwards. What I saw was a charred set of turnout gear and a brave grandmother who had just escaped death. She will always have my utmost respect because she exemplifies what every firefighter strives for courage and bravery. But most of all love – love her chosen career and love of her fellow firefighters

View the actual video on GoogleVideo


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lou, I remember this incident well, I was one of the other firefighters that were on that same safety hoseline with Anna. This was a wake up call for all of us, not knowing that she went out the window, we were afraid that she did not make it out since she did not come down that small stairway.