“The home in Brooklyn could be in any of our back yards.”
By Mike Dowling
Black Sunday. This ominous title was given to a day which will forever be ingrained in the Fire Service. As students of our craft we are acutely aware of the circumstances which lead to the tragedy that occurred this fateful day in the Bronx. Lives were lost. Some changed forever. Rules, laws, training and equipment were developed after the facts, transcripts and reports were shared. In the magnitude of the impact of that incident in the Bronx we sometimes forget that what made this day significant was that another Brother, Richard Sclafani Ladder 103, was also lost while operating at a fire in Brooklyn.
I have read the reports, listened to the audio and watched the videos surrounding the Bronx incident. Today, I decided that I wanted to learn more about Brother Sclafani’s sacrifice. After a quick search I found the NIOSH report. The Bronx incident involved a building unique to the urban setting. The home in Brooklyn could be in any of our back yards. Two story, wood frame dwelling with a basement. The fire, one which any of us could respond to, was located in the basement. In the introduction to the report I found a glaring fact.
“At approximately 1346 hours, the victim and officer began to exit the basement when they became separated on the lower section of the stairwell. The officer reached the front stoop and realized that the victim had failed to exit the building. He returned to the top of the basement stairs and heard a personal alert safety system (PASS) alarm sounding in the stairwell and immediately transmitted a MAYDAY for the missing fire fighter. The victim was located at approximately 1349 hours, and numerous fire fighters spent the next twenty minutes working to remove the victim from the building.”
The FDNY, quite possibly the largest, best staffed and equipped department in the nation took 20 minutes to extract one of their own from a handful of basement steps. We have seen time and time again while studying Maydays that if the incident is not stabilized by crews near the victim and the usage of a RIT is required that it is often time consuming and man power intensive. Is your agency ready to dedicate the resources to a fire fighter emergency at every incident? Remember this incident occurred in a two-story wood frame dwelling that could be in your district.
As I read further the activities of the initial operating companies where revealed. An attack line advanced down the interior stairs, search crews leading the line pushing towards the seat to check for victims. Personnel assigned outside duties start to complete their tasks. Bars removed, exterior basement doors forces and windows opened. The next several paragraphs reveal changing fire conditions. Crews on both the interior and exterior begin to identify an increasing heat and fire intensity. These changing conditions lead crews to decide to fall back out of the basement and interior stairwell. It is at this point that Firefighter Sclafani became separated from his officer and was later found down on the stairwell.
In the NIOSH report fire behavior was not identified as a contributing factor. The fire service’s recent education about the effects that the introduction of fresh air into a fire compartment has on fire behavior leads me to question whether this may have had some bearing on the events of this day. I will not accuse those involved of wrong doing. The facts are not there. To my knowledge a fire dynamics simulator was not done to identify fire behavior characteristics of this fire. But what we can do is look at this incident and place it in our town, a basement fire in a 2 story wood frame dwelling. How would you attack it? Is flow path control a consideration? Is your RIT adequately staffed and prepared?
Let the experience of others be your guide to gaining knowledge, then build upon it in training.
Mike Dowling has been involved in Emergency Services since the Mid’ 90s He started as an EMT, Paramedic and Public Safety Dispatcher in the Greater Waterbury Ct area. Mike followed his father’s footsteps to serve his community by becoming a FF, LT, Capt and Training officer for the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect CT. In 2003 Mike achieved his goal of becoming a Career Fire Fighter when he was hired but the Prince Georges County Fire/EMS Dept. Mike was Promoted to Fire Lieutenant in 2010 is currently assigned to Company 821 in the Oxon Hill community.
Mike has been lucky to assist in Fire Fighter training on both a local and national level for a variety of organizations. Mike will return to FDIC in 2020 for his third year with the Real World Fireground Operations HOT program.
In February of 2013, he created the Facebook Page “Holding1and1”, a resource to discuss fireground operations and firefighter interests with his friend, Bill Schnaekel.