Quick work, foam prevent explosion when plane hits house

A plane crash into a residence required a combination of firefighting, hazmat and rescue to remove occupants from the home


What happened: On Saturday, Feb. 23, a single-engine plane with an instructor and student pilot on board took off from the Winter Haven (Florida) Regional Airport. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed into a house on 21st Street Northwest in Winter Haven.

Three kids were in the front yard, while three other people were in the house. A 17-year-old girl was in the bedroom the plane crashed into, and became trapped between the aircraft and the walls of her room. A brother in the room next door attempted to pull her out, but was unable to.

The 64-year-old pilot died in the wreckage, while the adult student literally walked away with superficial injuries.

The incident is another reminder that crews need to constantly expect the unexpected, and be prepared to combine firefighting, hazardous materials management and rescue skills at a moment’s notice. (Photo/AP)
The incident is another reminder that crews need to constantly expect the unexpected, and be prepared to combine firefighting, hazardous materials management and rescue skills at a moment’s notice. (Photo/AP)

Winter Haven firefighters arrived to find the airplane sticking out of the residence’s roof, and quickly went to work on rescue operations. Amazingly, while firefighters were conducting the confined and difficult rescue of the 17-year-old, the plane was leaking fuel but did not catch fire. After the 17-year-old was brought out an adjacent window, firefighters began filling the area with firefighting foam product to reduce the vapor volatility.

Other than the singular fatality, it appears all injuries were minor and patients will be released from the hospital.

3 takeaways on the Winter Haven plane crash

I spoke with Captain Casey Dasher, Training and Safety, Winter Haven Fire Department, and other first responders who were on the scene, who noted the combined public safety team on scene worked seamlessly to manage this incident. Here are the top takeaways.

1. Early comprehensive incident command was critical

Time was clearly of the essence to avert a secondary tragedy. With the plane sticking nose down and leaking fuel into the home, and the viable victim trapped in between the plane and the wall, an imminently explosive environment had to be managed.

Having command, safety and operations set up quickly was important to help remove the unprotected citizens, family members and law enforcement officers who were valiantly trying to rescue the trapped female, Dasher noted.

The responding firefighters’ use of available technology, including iPads, was critical in the early stages to research the plane’s tail number, to find the plane schematic and to identify fuel valve shut offs (which were found, but damaged). The plane was one out of approximately 23 of this type of amphibious twin engine ever made. There are only eight or nine left in existence. Dispatch quickly called the FAA, and when the representative arrived, he noted he had inspected this very plane two weeks prior.

2. Mitigating fuel volatility avoids further complications

Firefighters used electric fans to limit CO output, while creating a ventilation current which lessened the potential for explosive limits to be reached. Crews further used foam, however rescue was necessary before foam could be liberally used. Understanding the fuel volatility and early need for foam application limited further on-scene complications.

Dasher reported the extrication was rapid. The girl was wedged between two wall studs. Firefighters broke through the drywall and kicked out the studs before pulling the victim through a window.

3. Train for the unexpected

A quick response with fully staffed units provided ample staffing to initiate this rescue quickly under extremely difficult conditions. Winter Haven FD had two engines on scene quickly, staffed with 7 personnel, followed by a tower ladder with three additional firefighters within minutes.

This is another reminder that crews need to constantly expect the unexpected, and be prepared to combine firefighting, hazardous materials management and rescue skills at a moment’s notice.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON UNIQUE RESCUES

Learn more about preplanning for unique rescue situations with the following FireRescue1 resources:

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