Driver-Only at Kentucky House Fire. How Would Your Department Handle It?

Our FireEMSBloggers, The Fire Critic and STATTer911 each have shared the video of firefighters arriving at a Butler County house fire. In his post about the action, The Fire Critic asks " Do you think your department might have had a chance at getting to the victims while they were still viable victims?"

What Do You Say?

The Fire Critic: Early Video: Rural Firefighting at a Double Fatal House Fire
STATter911: Pre-arrival video: Double-fatal house fire in Logansport, Kentucky....

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What about the dog?
As stated earlier, it looked like the neighbors informed the first due firefighters that there was someone trapped within the structure. Although there was only two firemen and some neighbors, life is at risk here. You can see the vehicle sitting in the driveway, which is an indicator that there is most likely a person contained within.

They took a LONG time to even get the line to the door, nonetheless charge it. Plus, I saw plenty of tools on the rig, but none being taken to the structure.

It is hard to know what was going through their minds, and I am not here to criticize. However, I do feel like their decision making was relatively slow. They had minimal resources for manpower, so I would have asked the neighbors for additional assistance pertaining to easier tasks. The neighbor helped pull the line... Although it looked like he didn't do much besides run behind the guy.

Law Enforcement was also incredibly slow to the scene.

If it were me on the initial rig, I would've asked the most seasoned EMS officer to man the radios. I'd gear and pack up, pull the line to the door, run back and charge it, grab a set of irons, and ran back. There's TWO firefighters there that could have went in there with the hose and a tool or two. Give another EMS member a pike pole and tell them to coordinate ventilation with a hose attack once inside, if necessary.

That's just me. If the man was found, they could have dropped the tools. A life is priceless in comparison to some tools.
I do not agree with "bystanders stretching the line" in any way. Give that order, regardless of the situation, and you never be able to defend that action. Yes I know it's an emotional situation; people reported trapped. EMS may be a seperate duty, or it may be provided by certified firefighters. That's a hard call. Regardless of the situation when you respond to any incident with such a small crew, you should be prepared for what you may run into. The apparatus is not capable of responding with an actual company-level staffing, so it is likely that pov response to the scene is routine, which sets the stage for these type incidents. It's always possible to arrive pov first, with no apparatus on the horizon for many rural departments.

It does look to be more of a room, or contents fire, perhaps both, but smoke doesn't indicate heavy involvement. The door looks to be a simple job, break a pane of glass, reach in, or an easy pry job either way. It's surprising to hear how foreign the tactic of VES really is to some areas. But the important thing to remember is that there are NO mandates for training continuity. So it is sadly common that some areas have no organized training, and some rely on the minimum FF1 type basic training, and stop there, with the belief that there is nothing else needed. All you really need, it seems, are supposed good intentions. If VES isn't a skill require in these FF1 programs, it isn't even in the tool box.

It could very well be an ideal VES job. However, with an unknown, unsure response of additional staffing and companies, and without proper training and experience it is almost sure to get them in trouble. Where do they start? Pick a room. Where ARE the victims? Remember, regardless of what and where you open (VES) you are likely to cause fire spread. VES works well when you make entry, as in over a ladder to a second floor bedroom when fire has, or has likely to cut off escape or exit by exposing the interior stairs. The objective is to get to the door, and hopefully buy some time and hold the fire, heat, and smoke back. It's also hopeful that an engine, or a crew gets a hoseline into position on the lower floor and contain/confine the fire.

If the victims are located within the fire compartment, there are likely to be deceased before you arrived. Again, how long was the fire burning, how long before it was discovered, reported? Response time? What was the cause and origin? Judging by the smoke, it doesn't seem like a long time-frame. Elderly folks generally keep their homes tight, and while it looks to be fairly warm weather, windows look to be closed, etc. Smoldering, starved fire? It really looks to be in the initial stages.

Regardless of all this, it IS easy to be critical. That's what we do, and sometimes we may be too critical, especially since "we weren't there". The first arriving firefighters were faced with a real problem. Let's give them this: They did not appear to be aimless, adrenaline-crazed, and lacking purpose or motivation. They needed to prioritize, and initiate actions based on what they see, what they are capable of doing, and some luck. Unfortunately the victims didn't have any luck. My questions remain the same: Smoke detectors? If not, why not? If so, what happended that precluded their early escape? If your department is short-staffed, has long response times or distances, or all of the above, aggressively campaign the smoke detector cause.

Drill your staff on the realities of what they will be doing, and the realities of their ability. Take as much training and education as you can. Then apply reality to your world. Do NOT try to implement tactics that are meant for fully-staffed and simultaneous (or close) arrival of 4-person engines and 4 or 5-person truck companies. If you normally arrive with a 3-person crew, train and operate that way. Adapt, adjust, and make sure your government and the citizens have an understanding of the realities of the local fire departments capabilities.Otherwise you are doing a diservice. Remember, most people think they are "protected" when they dial 9-1-1, and their ideas of "protection" usually mean that we can perform miracles despite our limitations.
As I mentioned earlier. VES or Entering with Pcan have been used on many ocassions.
Course we aren't comparing apples to apples either.
The question should be."What can tbe department do to prepare there firefighters?"
As many have mentioned, look at the engine not built to accommodate a 4 or 5 man crew.
The lack of experience & possibly training. Played a large part in the out come of this fire,
more so than inadequate manpower.
I'm also from a rural dept. and also know the feeling that these firefighters experienced on arrival. Two things are always in short supply in the first 5 minutes of arrival and that is water and manpower. Automatic mutual aid is a must but like said in previous posts it'll be 15-20 minutes till they arrive. However I do agree and always instruct my firefighters when you ride a truck or arrive pov grab a tool from the truck, it can be anything, pike pole, irons, saw, flashlight, but have something in your hands. I also agree the firefighters appear to be moving slow but I think I know why, when you haven't had much fire experience or training and you're not sure what to do you're going to be a little "gun shy" and are hoping more firefighters show up before you do anything. An excuse that I don't buy though is that they're just a rural volunteer dept., I don't care if you don't get paid to do the job it doesn't mean you can't be trained on how to do it. Sure you don't get that many fires so then you better train more. Training doesn't have to be brain surgery, simple smoke reading skills, tool operations, hose placements, and more would help any rural dept. in a situation like on the video.
Back to the original question: If the victims were viable on arrival of FD

1)this could have been my departments initial manpower during a daylight call...initial alarm would have several other departments dispatched at the same time but they are still going to be several minutes away. We do have the "luxury" of our daylight group having training and experience but two responders are not going to make it a positive outcome.

2) in an evening or night time call when our response has additional people then we might have been able to change the outcome provided that the victims were viable. That is dependant on EMS though as one ambulance for 2 burn/smoke inhalation patients is not helping and a second ambulance in our area can be 5 to 10 minutes away or longer as they have 5 units to cover the entire county between 2300 and 0500.

Just to play devil's advocate: according to a UL report published in December 2010 on average in a one story residence,from time of initial ventilation (taking the front door is venting) to fire becoming a danger to firefighters' you have 100 seconds to put water on the fire or temps start to rise. VES does protect the responder by having a door closed in the room you are searching but doesn't do much for the victims as the fire is allowed to grow and consume more oxygen. You can read the report here

Just a warning the link is to a 450 page report that is a lot of dry reading but has an immense amount of useful knowledge.
Now having seen the video I feel they did what they could with what they had. VES would have definitely worked here at this fire, minimal light colored smoke exiting with litle force, no visible fire, there are openings already too, the window to the left of the door is open. Make entry, find the door and close it than search the room for vics, go on to the next room. Its fast and effective for this type of fire. Im sorry, but the line takes too much time in a situation like this, being experienced I would have packed up and grabbed the other guy and did the VES, atleast I would have know I did all I could to save the Lives. The house can be re-built, Im going after the people. With a small ranch style house like this with all windows on ground level or slightly higher its easy enough to gain entry through one and do a search ahead of the fire. You probably could have found the fire room and closed the door to help you buy a few more minutes also, I mean this fire was not too far advanced, it looked room and contents at minimal. But thats just my observations as an officer and what i would have done, like many have said already its tough to make a call just watching a video, without being there you dont know the whole story, and the departments capability and what MA they have rolling and how far off it is. Without all of the info and just basing my response on what I saw they did their job, they did what they are trained to do and did everything they could to save them and the house. They didnt look like "Buffs" hyped up on adrenaline like mentioned already, they got ready and made entry as fast as they could with the help they had. Good job to the guys on scene and I hope they are all OK, I know first hand how frustrating it can be to loose people and hope they are alright.
Fire called in just before 6am
First unit on scene 6:11
Size up -
~Light, uniform smoke, little pressure, pushing from all eves but heaviest at A/B corner, with smoke pushing from gable end vent.
~Possible double-wide
~Vehicle in driveway suggests structure occupied.
~Wheelchair ramp - suggests handicapped occupant, likely unambulatory.
~Early hour suggests occupants still in bed.
~Somewhat greater volume of smoke appears at A/B corner.
~Smoke being pushed from between storm window, A/B, lower storm appears blackened and warped, suggests sash pane cracked/broken out, likely room of origin, likely room untenable.
~Ventilation controlled fire.

Probable house layout -
~Living room right of front door, A/D, kitchen in rear, C/D, hallway goes left, bedroom to left of front door (off hallway), A/B, bathroom across hall, D, second bedroom, B/C corner

Tactics -
~With limited (but experienced) personnel, VES might have been a viable option, with one FF entering B/C bedroom, second FF could do a quick look/reach inside front entry or, both perform a rapid interior attack for a quick knockdown.

In the video, once entry is made, color, volume and pressure changes, smoke appears to be banked down to about 3 feet from floor but this may be result of tunneling from in-rushing air (ventilation). Most likely entire structure was IDLH.

Initial call just before 6am
first unit on scene 6:11
entry made 6:17

Neighbor calls reporting visible smoke; given that on arrival smoke is pushing from all the eves and gable vent, it suggests that the fire was well along when neighbor first noticed the smoke, possibly burning for 10 or more minutes.
With entry made at 6:17 the fire had been burning for 18-19 minutes from the time of the 911 call and probably close to 30 minutes from ignition.

Given the exact same time-line it is unlikely that no amount of FF's, no fire department, could have saved the occupants of this structure. To argue differently, to presume faster response time(s), greater experience or more personnel is speculative at best and ignores the reality of this situation. Likewise arguing that different tactics would have worked better also ignores the facts. Unfortunately, given the timeline alone, the outcome was predetermined.
It doesn't seem like the consequences of no smoke detectors has made an impact here. Of course it is just speculation. Time of discovery, time of report, and response time are all important. But along with response time is what, and who actually responds. Too few, with too little training or ability is worthless.

If these occupants were indeed handicapped, advanced audible and visual warning is extremely important. And so is public education and involvement, such as CALL IT IN when you first hear it regardless of seeing or smeeling anything. It seems it's only reported after it has become a nuisence to the neighbors.

I don't think anyone was moving "too slow'. It apperared to me that the firefighter getting the information and donning protective equipment was very disciplined, and not out of control with wild adrenalin surges. He was concise. Maybe others equate running anf frantic movements as positive. I don't.

VES is a tactic, once again, that is extremely viable and effective, yet the location and involvement of the fire is important as well. The most constributing factor that seems to be forgotten is once you make entry, you ARE introducing air, which WILL have an effect on the fire spread.
Well I am glad after reading all of these posts, it is nice to see someone stay to point. The fire conditions that were shown upon arrival were unliveable. There was no way the victims could have been rescued.
I was an aggressive firefighter when I was younger when I took a risk not neccessary. I got 2nd degree burns when I tried to enter a room that someone said they saw a child. The room was so hot no one could live in those conditions.
If you look at the window and the door when the firefighter entered, the smoke was thick and to the floor. Thos people had been in these conditions for a while. Smoke killed them long before the firefighters ever made entry.

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