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Video: Rescue-gone-wrong highlights importance of flow path control

A vented patio door leads to explosive fire conditions, a dropped victim and a firefighter bailout

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A video circulating on Facebook recently showed a person being rescued from a balcony with fire raging below. The rescue does not go as well as it could have for numerous reasons, but the main reason is the growth and extension of the fire in the unit below.

What first caught my attention in the video was the fact that the lower apartment unit patio door appears to be open, with heavy and fast flame exiting the upper portion of the door and flame visible on the adjacent side of the wall/window.

As the video unfolds, the rescue goes horribly wrong when a would-be rescuer on the ladder drops the occupant, then jumps off the ladder. We then see a firefighter fleeing the flames forced to jump off the balcony.

How did it come to this? It was due to the rapid acceleration of fire growth to the point of flashover. The intense radiant heat of the fire below is what made rescuers fall or jump in a desperate attempt to escape the heat.

This video highlights quite a few little dominos that are lining up with a path toward a bad outcome.

The first and biggest domino is the vented openings of the fire unit below. The rescue is being attempted without first addressing the opening. This may have been due to staffing limitations when first on arrival, but as the video shows, it was a huge contributor to the situation going bad. Studies from UL have shown us how quickly fire grows when a vented opening is present – the countdown clock ticks very fast until flashover. In this case, flashover occurs within six seconds of the recording. (It is unclear how long the fire was visible before the recording began.)

What could have been done? Water on the fire is one answer to controlling the vented openings. Using a transitional fire attack while the rescue was being attempted would have worked – and this fits in with staffing limited situations. In the video, we can see a hoseline flaked out on the ground in front of the ground ladder. With a static spray of water in a straight stream fashion, at the ceiling area of the room below, there would have been a reduction in temperature, buying some more time for the rescue.

The other dominos that we can see include a would-be rescuer with no protective clothing, a firefighter without their SCBA, and most likely, a three-person engine. Although these are contributing factors, the vented opening is the key domino that needs to be addressed. If this was controlled in some way, the rescue could have been handled far better, even with the help of a would-be rescuer.

Training time

After watching this video and reading this resource with your company, take the following steps to train your crew:

  • Refer to your department’s standard operating procedures and guidelines (SOPs and SOGs) for direction regarding rescue models or addressing fireground priorities.
  • Review the UL studies on flow path management to determine the average times for fire spread and growth for a single-story and two-story building when there is a new vented opening.
  • Learn more about transitional fire attack and determine if this tactic is included in your department’s operations. If it is, practice it as part of a rescue operation. If it is not, research the benefits and practicality of this tactic, and see if you can get it added to the department’s operations playbook.

Additional resources

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.