By: Lou Angeli
Townsend, DE, January 4, 2013 -- Was it luck or training that saved the lives of 2 firefighters working a well involved structure in Townsend, DE this past Friday? Photos and eye-witnesses reveal that Firefighters Shoemaker and Ehart were very close to being severely injured (or killed) by FLASHOVER. Heavy dense smoke... and hot gases forced them to abandon their handline and exit the 2nd floor, head first, face down. Thank God that special services had raised ground ladders to assist with the RIT directive.
FLASHOVER is tough to identify, especially when you're in the thick of it. The Swedes have shared a simulator with US and Canadian firefighters that helps re-create the FLASHOVER environment with all of the super-heated detail. For those of you who have experienced the phenomenon inside the Swede Survival System…well, you know just how hot it can get. You’ve also learned how to recognize pre-FLASHOVER conditions.
Although European Fire Adminsitrators were convinced of the dangers of Flashover in the 1970's, it wasn't until Division Chief Vince Dunn (FDNY-retired) brought the dangers to the forefront here in the USA after seeing it so many times on the streets of the Bronx and Manhattan. Several of Vinnie's Flashover Training videos were shot here in Delaware, and many of us were fortunate to learn first-hand what it felt like to be in the same room as the beast.
However, rather than focusing on tactics, Garment Manufacturers responded by providing us with more elaborate thermal protective gear, good enough to protect us in temperatures of up to 1200 degress (F). But as Vince often reminded us, in a flashover situation EVERYTHING burns -- walls, ceilings, furniture and firefighters.
“We shouldn’t be in the same room when the fire presents warnings of flashover,” the Chief often said to his training classes.
So on Friday last, it wasn’t turnout gear that saved 2 Townsend firefighters – it was training. Training from the Delaware State Fire School, company level training, conversations with veteran personnel, and even youtube videos. If there ever was a definitive description of “nick of time” it occurred on Friday afternoon last. Training reminded the trapped firefighters that they should remain calm, stay low and look for the light. That’s how Shoemaker and Ehart handled what was a “nick of time” situation.
They’re around today to share that story with their local colleagues and firefighters around the world -- A story that began with Vince Dunn and was handed down over the past generation to crews nationwide, including Station 26. Just a note that Delaware’s Christiana Fire Company is sponsoring a class entitled “Red Flags: Keeping Us Safe on the Fireground” on Saturday, February 2nd. After Friday’s incident, the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. And personally, I lead off the class with the accounts of the 2 firefighters who escaped the beast because of what they knew. Check with Don Moorehead for additional info regarding the class.