I met an old colleague (Rob) last night and we were talking over some of the fires we fought together in London some years back. There was one in particular I thought was worth sharing with you. It was an old five storey apartment building with a single stair, with apartments leading directly onto the stairs at each level. The fire was in a second floor apartment and even though the apartment door was closed there was heavy smoke and high heat entering the stair as the door was beginning to fail.
There were two people reported trapped in the fourth floor apartment, one a child. As Rob passed the apartment on fire and headed up the stairs with another colleague to reach the occupants a hose-line was being prepared and laid to the fire floor in the stairs to protect their egress. The openings were (1) fire apartment window on 2nd floor with post-flashover fire and smoke issuing; (2) stair door at ground level; (3) trapped occupant’s apartment window on 4th floor.
In those days we had few radios on the fire-ground and Rob wasn’t to know that the occupants were being rescued by a hydraulic snorkel platform at the time he and his colleague forced the stair door to their apartment on the 4th floor. As this door was forced open, the FLOW PATH was reversed as the air outlet in the fire apartment became an air inlet as the apartment door into the stairs was burned through by the air movements.
With two firefighters being above the fire, this was the typical NYC Watts St. scenario!
They both managed to jump two flights of stairs through the flaming fire front, landing on top of other firefighters below. After eight weeks of burns treatment they both returned to duty.
1. Coordinate inside ops with outside ops.
2. Taking water with them above the fire would not have aided their escape in this situation.
3. The hose-line to the fire floor to protect egress was slow in deployment and this was critical.
4. Take or cover the fire before the (interior) rescue.
5. DO NOT open the door to a fire compartment (or suspected) with people above, especially in the stair.
6. When opening an interior door, or creating an exterior vent, first be certain of where firefighters may be located in the flow path that follows.
7. If you are to the interior and making that opening yourself, if above or level with the fire, be aware that you might be the wrong side of the flow-path.
Stay alert – stay safe!