Wednesday, April 29

Trapped on the Third Floor

I was wandering through the sea of subscribers that is the FireFighter Nation awhile ago when I came across the avatar of Donald Noss. It is an image of a man standing in what looks like a burnt out kitchen, not in fire gear.
I sent a quick message, curious as to the image and got quite the interesting response.

Donald was standing in the remains of his kitchen at the Heritage House Condominiums in Rocky River, Ohio in 2006.

A late night fire raced through the building trapping many residents, including Donald and his wife, with no warning.

What followed could only be described as a perfect storm of difficulties and errors.
Donald wrote a book about his experience in the fire as well as the questions he had after the fire. Questions many firefighters never consider either when pre-planning or during a firefight.

The most amazing part of this book is that it is written from the viewpoint of someone in the panic of being trapped by fire, unsure of what to do or where to go, not some Fire Officer with 20/20 hindsight and an understanding of fire behavior.

On the third floor, they are awoken by a voice calling from the courtyard below. A police officer saw the faint glow of their TV on and is trying to help. Looking out the window they see flames climbing over 50 feet into the night sky. They hear no alarms. They hear no sirens. The officer calls on his radio for a ladder. No one is answering. They are on their own.

From Fire Faceoff-
"The policeman standing directly below us kept radioing for help to the courtyard. .He tried to reassure us that someone was coming. .He kept telling us to “stay in the window, stay in the window.” .Except for the policeman’s voice and the sharp exploding sounds the fire made as it consumed more of the roof, the courtyard was perfectly quiet. .We saw no one else.

I ran back to the kitchen again and stared at the entrance door for a few seconds trying to figure out if we had to make a run to the south end of the building no matter what I remembered Drew telling me a few years earlier.. The hallways were quiet, but I knew they had to be deadly. .Why were they so quiet? .For a second, I thought maybe everyone was already dead.. I was scared and didn’t want to run into the smoke, but the fire was huge and heading for us. .And I didn’t know if there were any flames near our front door leading down the building's long third floor hallway.. I knew they could be there but even if not, a tiny gulp of seven or eight hundred-degree smoke would be too much. .We had a long distance to run toward any exit.

The policeman on the ground tried to sound reassuring to us, but I could sense some panic building in his voice.. I didn’t know what he really knew and or was afraid to tell us. .He just kept saying, “they’re coming, they’re coming!” And then I wondered if anyone was even listening to his calls. .What was taking so long? We had to decide, right then! No second chances now. .Do we trust the policeman and the advice Drew gave me a few year's earlier?. It was getting difficult to concentrate and breathe.. Do we Stay or Run? .I kept thinking about this over and over as I ran back and forth from the kitchen to the living room window. .I never asked Linda what she thought about trying to run out of the condominium.. Time was up."

This book includes photos from both before, during and after the fire as well as dispatch transcripts all in an effort to learn why the fire spread so quickly, so quietly, killing the author's friend and neighbor, Christine McSteen after she had been told to stay in place, a rescue was coming for her.

" was made with Christine McSteen in unit #309 during fire suppression in unit #308 and she was told to go to her window to be rescued. Later she was found deceased."

Through Donald's eyes and words firefighters can learn what occupants are feeling, thinking and doing when you haven't even been dispatched yet.

The most interesting part of the story, in my opinion, is that this happened 6 years prior and the problems were supposedly fixed. Firewalls in the attic, standpipes and a new alarm system. Did any of it help?

The Fire Chief says this fire was fought "by the book," but won't tell Donald what that means.

Link HERE for more details on the book. Read it and have a better appreciation for what your victims are going through while you're "getting the glory" on the nozzle.

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