Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Structure Fire in Pullman

It is unusual for Pullman to get a lot of structure fire in any given year. In fact around the country due to fire codes, sprinklers, etc, fires are pretty rare.

But eight minutes after midnight we got toned out for a structure fire at an apartment complex. I was less that enthused. I figured it would be the typical call like that.

This is how they go:
We get toned to a structure fire only to find out someone about 100 yards away saw a flame. That flame was from a BBQ grill being started and they did not know it. So we all go there only to go home a few minutes later. Today was not that day.

I was at the station with one other Reserve. We were watching some TV. We were on call until 0600. We went to the bay and got our turnouts put on. Turnouts are also called bunker gear. It is the firefighters clothing that is worn inside a fire.

I was driving so I did not have my coat on, only the pants, to allow for better movement while driving to the scene. It was not long after we were dispatched that I learned there was a shed on fire. The shed was attached to an apartment.

So we went code to the scene. As we were arriving the Lt on scene said to come straight into the Engine and pack up for a possible rescue. That means that we need to put our SCBA's (self-contained breathing apparatus) on. We were going to go into the building because someone could possibly be inside still.

The others had a head start on me because all they had to do was throw on their SCBA packs. I had to get my coat and pack on. We were in the parking lot above the building we were going to enter. I saw the other guys take a shortcut to the door.

The shortcut involved going through a planter and over a three-foot wall. I stepped into the planter and it was a much bigger drop that I expected. I thought I was only stepping down about six inches when in fact it was about a full foot. I lost my balance and fell over. I stood up and went to step up on the top of the wall to jump down. When I was making my step up for the top of the wall the bushes sank on me. This caused my step to not be high enough. My foot hit the side of the wall and my momentum carried me over the wall.

I landed on my right knee and my hands. I was sort of shocked about the fall. But I quickly did a self-assessment and thought I was okay. I got up and we entered three apartments checking for people. In one apartment a bedroom door was locked. I fully expected to find someone inside. We kicked down the door only to find an empty room.

After searching all the apartments there was a report that heavy smoke was entering one of the apartments. We were told to go back into the apartments and make sure all the windows were shut.

In the third apartment, the one that was connected to the shed that was on fire, we found thick, heavy smoke. It was so think you could barely see your hand in front of your face. We found the heat had busted the window and we could not secure it.

We were told to set up a positive pressure fan to get the smoke out of the building. By this time my knee was starting to hurt a little bit. So after I helped set up the fan I took myself off the crew. With being hurt I knew I would be a liability should things go bad.

I spent the rest of the fire running the staging and rehab area. I was in charge of all the people coming out of the fire and it was also my job to make sure they were ready to go back inside.
It looked like the fire was getting under control, but while searching for extension, they found the fire had made it inside the apartments. So thick smoke started to roll out the ventilation hole that was cut in the roof. They pulled an extra hose line from one of the fire engines to fight the fire. I was concerned because I did not have any crews ready in the staging area. I was worried because if something bad happened it would be harder for us to have someone ready to rescue people.

It was not a whole bunch longer that we started to get the fire in the apartment under control. Pretty soon things we slowing down. I had a couple crews in the staging area. A little while after that we started to break down the scene because the emergency was over.

My knee however was hurting and I was not able to kneel down nor put too much pressure on it.

Other than my injury on one else suffered any injuries. But I found out that everyone who tried to go down the way I went had similar problems with the bushes giving way. No one however was unlucky enough to actually fall down the three-foot drop off like I did.

Following the fire and the clean up we went back to the station to put all the vehicles back in service. We did not get home until nearly 0600.

UPDATE #1: May 28th, 2006
Pullman fire investigator Tony Nuttman said one of the occupants had attempted to barbeque Friday night and when the occupant thought the coals had not caught fire, put them in a cardboard box, and placed the box in a storage shed attached to the back of the apartment.

UPDATE #2: May 28th, 2006
I saw a doctor about my knee. After checking it out and doing his poking, pushing, and pulling he determined that there did not appear to be be any major damage. He said the injury is common for peoiple who fall onto their knee. He said some rest and I will be back to normal.

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