Firehouse

JAN 2017

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Most recently, FDNY Battalion Chief Mike Fahy was killed in the line of duty at the scene of a gas leak in the Bronx. FDNY firefighters responded to a call about the smell of gas. Firefighters discovered what looked like a marijuana grow house in the structure and reported it to police. FDNY and NYPD members were evacuating nearby buildings when the explosion occurred. Chief Fahy was doing his job—commanding operations from the street—when he was struck by flying debris and killed. RIP, Chief. One major gas leak—and subsequent explosion—that grabbed my attention hap- pened on Dec. 27, 1983, back when I was a newly promoted assistant chief in Buffalo, NY. Five Buffalo firefighters and two civil- ians were killed when a propane blast lev- eled a warehouse. The explosion damaged 12 city blocks and remains the department's deadliest fire in modern history. Former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Mike Lombardo wrote a piece for Fire- house, providing his perspective on this fire. To read the account, visit the online version of this article at firehouse.com/12284770. Gas leak and explosion While all of the above incidents—and so many more—are critical to our learning, let's focus on an event that happened in Adams County, PA, within the first-due area of the Alpha Fire Company (AFC). The AFC is a nonprofit volunteer fire and EMS company that protects the com- munity of Littlestown, PA, and its surround - ing areas. AFC responds to approximately 350 fire and rescue incidents and 800 EMS runs a year, with two engine companies, an engine tanker, a heavy rescue and related support apparatus. Its initial response for a gas leak is an engine, rescue and BLS ambulance. On March 4, 2016, the Alpha firefight- ers responded to a gas leak, just as they had many times before. Additional agen- cies that assisted in this incident included the Southeastern Adams Volunteer Emer- gency Services, Hanover Hospital ALS, Adams Regional EMS, Taneytown EMS, STAT Medevac and Life Lion helicop- ters, Littlestown Police, Adams County Department of Emergency Services 9-1-1 Dispatchers and Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal. While AFC crews searched the struc- ture for a possible occupant, an explosion occurred, injuring four firefighters. Two firefighters suffered burns on their hands and ears, and two firefighters suffered more minor injuries. Here we'll review the incident from the perspective of AFC Deputy Chief Justin Myers, who was the incident commander that day, and then offer lessons learned from the interior firefighters—Ray Boyd, Michael Cahill, Jay Ingle and Dan Healy. IC Myers' perspective The initial dispatch for an inside gas inves- tigation (odor of gas) was for Engine 202, Rescue 20 and Ambulance 20A. Engine 202 arrived on location to find normal conditions of a single-story, wood-frame residence. Columbia Gas and Littlestown police were already on scene. I assumed command and crews began to investigate. The gas company representative advised that he had tracked the leak to the residence and had readings on the exterior and underground. The leak was underground and could not be controlled with the valve at the meter. He advised that the neighbors had not seen the elderly female resident that morning and no one answered the door. There was a newspaper in the driveway and a car in the attached garage. The decision was made to search for the resident. The exterior of the home was checked and an unlocked window was found on the garage. The window was opened, and the gas representative had readings inside the garage. One firefighter entered the window in full PPE and on air (SCBA) with a four- gas monitor. The monitor almost immedi- ately went into low alarm. The firefighter manually released the overhead garage door, and his partner entered the garage. The crew forced the interior garage door and entered the residence. As they searched, they opened windows and the front door. The gas monitor was now in an over-range condition. A second meter was obtained from the Rescue. The engine was moved from a staging position to the clos- est hydrant. The crew continued the search and soon advised that the search of the first floor was negative and they were unable to locate the basement door. The 360 survey had revealed no exterior basement access but there were small ground-level windows and operat- ing vents from a high-efficiency furnace or water heater. An additional crew of two entered to assist in locating the stairwell. The crews soon found that the garage door they entered through had blocked the basement door with its swing. The crew went to the basement and found no resident. Prior to exiting the basement, they noted that the furnace was running and the exhaust motor was running. The decision was made to shut down the unit to eliminate an ignition source, and then exit the structure. As the main breaker (less than 30 inches from the fan motor) was flipped, the crew witnessed the ignition of the air around them. They dove to the floor. The two most severely injured fire- fighters were not wearing their gloves and attempted to cover their exposed skin. They were closest to the stairwell. I watched the lights go out through the open front door and it seemed like slow motion as the explosion occurred, sending a fireball through the home, slamming the As the main breaker was flipped, the crew witnessed the ignition of the air around them and dove to the floor. Photo by Bryan Felix/911 Photography January 2017 l Firehouse l 27

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