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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Backdraft close call: What we can learn

Viceo clip is a great reminder about how quickly fire and smoke conditions can change

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: In video posted online earlier this week, a backdraft is seen rocking a building with firefighters inside. Chief Adam K. Thiel outlines some lessons we can all learn below.

I'll never forget receiving a phone call, when I was Virginia's state fire programs director, after a very similar incident in a small-town restaurant where I knew the fire chief.

Initial reports suggested that several firefighters were injured or missing; fortunately, as in this case, everyone made it out.

There's a lot to discuss in this short video clip and hopefully we can use it, in a respectful way and not to "Monday morning quarterback" an event that could probably happen anywhere, to reinforce some lessons learned from other incidents.

There will probably be some discussion about whether this fire phenomenon was a true "backdraft" or a "smoke explosion."

Either way, it's a great reminder about how quickly fire and smoke conditions can change, exposing firefighters (inside or outside) to substantial risk.

It's also a case study for the importance of a properly staffed rapid intervention crew. Imagine how difficult it would have been to locate and rescue those interior firefighters if they were injured, or a partial structural collapse occurred.

Finally, while it's hard to be certain from the video, it appears the interior crews were (smartly) wearing full PPE and SCBA with their facepieces on.

If they hadn't done so, it seems likely there could have been significant injuries.

Stay safe!

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel FireRescue1's editorial advisor is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.



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