Learning from Cringe-Worthy Fires

Most firefighters have been to a fire that simply didn’t go as planned. Maybe the entire situation was mayhem for reasons they could or could not have managed. When these situations occur, it is imperative to learn from mistakes, plan, and train for the next one. Some might say this is experience… I have seen even the most experienced firefighters make decisions which turned out to be wrong and affected the entire scene. As long as we are being honest, I have done things in the past I am not proud of…yet I was able to learn from them and that experience has kept me from making the same mistake twice.

Ever since the advent of online videos, firefighters have been able to critique fires soon after and nowadays live while it transpires via social media. I have yet to see a video that completely shows and entire fire incident start to finish. Therefore, unless you were there experiencing it, you very likely do not know all of the facts taking place to make an honest and constructive critique of the fire. This is the largest reason why I very rarely offer my opinion of a fire. I simply cannot know the staffing, apparatus, response, command, tactics, strategy, etc. of any fire department other than my own…and even that varies shift to shift and battalion to battalion.

The progression of the fire isn’t as easy to see in these still images, but you get the idea.

With all of that being said, there are some fires showcased in video where you probably see enough to know that maybe not everything went as planned. Maybe/Hopefully, this wasn’t their best day and that the fire department responds with an internal critique of the incident in an attempt to not have the same situation happen again.

The video below appears to be one of those fires. Without knowing the staffing, response, events leading up to the fire, how the fire started, etc. I don’t want to critique the fire due to reasons mentioned above. I will note the fact that initially there was only one firefighter geared up to fight fire and that it took several precious minutes to get the area burning opened up and water put on the fire.

This is a combination department with 18 paid and 20 volunteer personnel. They are an ISO 2 department. They respond to 2-3 calls a day and typically have a 2-3 minute response time. The amount of responding personnel certainly have a huge bearing on the capabilities of the first few minutes of a fire.

In their defense, the man recording the video mentions smelling smoke 2 hours prior and that the floor of the outside balcony was burning when he called 911. Therefore technically speaking this fire might have already burned into the structure significantly prior to the fire department arriving.

Video by: jerseyforlife.

What do we do after an incident like this?

From a company level: Training, pre-fire planning, evaluating initial task assignments, working proficiently with the manpower and apparatus you have.

From an Administrative level: Staffing (hiring more firefighters/recruiting volunteers), response changes, mutual/automatic aid agreements (reform).

Interesting fact: This department had another fire at this apartment complex in 2012 destroying 3 buildings and 68 apartments. This fire which occurred on Christmas Day (making it that much worse) destroyed 12 apartments and damaged the remaining 12 in the building.

The lesson here is to utilize this video locally in your department to discuss your actions and how you would respond if you were first on scene. Maybe if given the same incident, you might be able to decrease the loss.

Check out STATter911.com for more news on the fire