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I worked overtime last night. I spent the first couple of hours on the frigid scene of the four alarm fire from the previous night hosing down still glowing hotspots. Before the shift was over one of my firefighters would suffer burns to his neck, another would declare a “mayday” and a family of four would be killed in their home. The new year has just begun.
Mother, 3 children dead in N. Phila. fire.
Fire investigators are trying to determine the cause of a blaze that raged through a two-story rowhouse in the Feltonville section this morning, killing a woman and her three children, officials said. Only one smoke alarm without a working battery was found in the basement of the home at 4814 Palethorp St., Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said.
When one of the Mayors flunkies suggested that they were going to “right size” the fire department, only a firefighter could tell him what an asinine comment that was to make. Unfortunately for this family, the people in city hall who are making decisions that affect their lives and well-being don’t know dog shit about firefighting or public safety. They are mostly career bureaucrats, bean counters, politicians and political hacks making lots of money on the back of the tax payers of this city. The repeated attacks on our department are clearly taking their toll. People have to understand that they must have working smoke detectors installed throughout their homes. The fire departments capability is under constant attack. Four minutes for the first company to arrive is a LONG time.
The first of series of 911 calls reporting the blaze came in at 1:28 a.m. and the and the first Fire Department unit arrived at 1:32 a.m., Ayer said, He said arriving firefighters found heavy smoke and fire on the first floor, including the porch, Ayers said. Some neighbors said firefighters did not make a concerted effort to rescue the victims, but Ayers rejected that suggestion. He said there was a brief communications breakdown when firefighters asked a man who was in front of the house if everyone was out.
Confusion is one of the most debilitating things we face on a fireground. Information is key. We treat every structure as if it’s occupied until proven otherwise. People see and hear things from different perspectives on a fire scene. A simple word or nuance can lead to massive confusion. Remember the 911 hijack tapes? One air traffic controller told another that one of the flights was “Down”. The one sounded relieved and said (paraphrase) “Oh he’s down”. Then the other came back with “No he’s DOWN” meaning the aircraft had crashed. Unfortunately firefighting is manpower intensive by nature. It takes properly trained, equipped and led firefighters to save lives and property. To make order out of chaos.
A firefighter tried to enter the house, but got into trouble and had to be pulled out, the commissioner said. Neighbors also complained that firefighters could not open a hydrant close to the house and had to run a hose down the street. Ayers said frozen hydrants are a problem in cold weather – the temperature was 25 degrees at time, according to the National Weather Service – and that firefighters use water from their truck tanks when they arrive to fight a fire. LINK
That firefighter and his crew became trapped for a time while inside the burning house. Once again listening to the emergency evacuation alert being sounded sends shivers up my spine. The bean counters who want to cut money out of the fire departments budget, close companies and generally destroy our organization have never encountered a frozen hydrant. They have never had the gut wrenching feeling of trying to get water flowing in sub freezing temperatures while your co-workers are trying desperately to make the second floor of a burning house, their only safety the protection of that charged hoseline. They have never had to recover the tiny remains of dead children. To the bean counters these things don’t enter their realm of experience. They have no frame of reference. So a difficult fire on a freezing street on a cold winter night in Philadelphia turned tragic and nearly killed a few firefighters as well.
Do you think anyone in City Hall gives a rats ass? Not as long as they “right size’ the PFD.