Courage And Valor…Understated

The citation is proof that people can survive even in the most unthinkable conditions.

“With Ladder 132’s inside team still waiting for a hoseline and unable to enter the stairwell, Demontreux entered the third-floor window from the aerial and began his search. Demontreux was able to search the front room but was forced to retreat to the window because of the high-heat condition and zero visibility. Firefighter Myers of Rescue 2, on the aerial ladder, then vented the windows in the front of the apartment to allow some of the blistering heat and smoke to escape. This allowed Demontreux to resume his search. With conditions improved slightly, he was able to make his way to the rear of the apartment.


FF Richard Myers of Rescue 2, Deputy Chief Robert Strong of Division 11, FF Peter Demontreux of Ladder 132 and FF Charles Dodenhoff of Rescue 2.

When Demontreux reached the rear, he discovered Mr. Mantony hanging out a rear window to escape the heat. Realizing that there were no fire escapes or portable ladders in the rear Demontreux, without regard for his own safety, determined that the only way out was the window through which he entered. Through the high heat and zero visibility he led Mantony back toward the front window. When they were halfway through the apartment, the entire third floor exploded into flames, engulfing both men and setting them ablaze. Myers, still on the aerial at the window, immediately transmitted a Mayday, believing that Demontreux and the victim could be lost in the explosion of fire.

Demontreux, now on fire himself, made the conscious and calculated decision that he would not leave Mantony behind. Although he found himself in a fully involved room and at extreme personal risk, he stayed with Mantony and continued to assist him to the window and the aerial device for escape. When they reached that window, Demontreux again displayed incredible selflessness and bravery by resisting the urge to save himself first. Ignoring his immediate personal danger, intense heat, and extreme personal risk, he pushed Mantony out of the window onto Ladder 132’s waiting aerial ladder before diving out of the window onto the ladder himself.” [1]


At the FDIC, Fireman 1st Grade Peter Demontreux was awarded the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award for the action described above. Fireman Demontreux action certainly are above and beyond the call of duty, but they also represent action taken by a firefighter that was trained in a Department that is committed to saving lives when buildings are on fire.

It is interesting that from the same Department, there comes a concept called victim survivability profiling. Developed as part of an Executive Fire Officer Project at the Nation Fire Academy by Captain Marsar of the FDNY, survivability profiling is a concept where the “go/no go” decision to commit personnel to search is altered by the condition found. Captain Marsar describes his profiling “as the art of examining a situation and making an intelligent and informed decision based on known events, or circumstances, to determine if civilians can survive existing fire and smoke conditions and to determine whether to commit firefighters to life-saving and interior operations. Based on the likelihood of civilian survivability, this concept goes beyond the tendency to justify risk whenever we respond to an occupied structure fire.” [2]

By reading the description above, one would wonder if the heat was too intense for the firefighter to continue, what chance would a civilian have, even after the apartment was vented? Yet Fireman Demontreux stayed true to his training and his Department’s commitment to save lives.

Survivability profiling was born out of a concern for firefighter deaths while searching for victims. Yet the statistics don’t bear out the concern. For the year 2007 cited by Marsar, 47 firefighters died at structure fires where only 2 victims were killed. [3] What is the correlation between Firefighter deaths and civilian deaths? How many victims were saved? At what point in the operation did the firefighter deaths occur? Certainly we all must do everything within our power to limit the risks that firefighters are exposed to, but a wholesale change in mission? In his article “%$#@ “Victim Survivability Profiling”; Do Your Primary Search”, Chris Brennan argues that profiling isn’t all that different than the size up we are supposed to being doing, as an ongoing assessment of conditions. But he also points out some of the flaws with assuming victims may not be alive, just by the amount of smoke or fire in the building. Chris also points out the other part of our mission to protect property. [4]

Why We Search? on Backstep Firefighter has links to over 40 examples in 2011 of supposedly vacant buildings having live victims. Many would argue, in the name of Victim Survivability Profiling, that we shouldn’t search vacant buildings, that it places firefighters in too much risk, for too little reward. Some have even questioned the “worth” of homeless people in this same vein.

In his second article “Survivability Profiling – continuing discussion” , Chris Brennan posted an email that he received from Captain Marsar in reply to his first article. Captain Marsar states, “Survivability Profiling is a “concept.” And honestly, as a career interior -structural firefighter, not one that I am even 100% comfortable with. However, it was my intention to stir conversation and yes, even debate, on the subject which you so readily acknowledge.” [5] The concern with this statement is that this “concept” is now becoming doctrine. It is listed as the Number 2 item in the IAFC “Rules of Engagement” poster. [6] It was also cited as a failure in the Homewood, IL NIOSH report, NIOSH Report 2010-10. Yet by Marsar’s own words, it is still a “concept”, with articles discussing practical applications yet to be published.

The citation above is proof that people can survive even in the most unthinkable conditions. When we signed up for this job, no one forced us to do it. We swore, of sound mind and body, to place our lives between fire and our victims. We swore to be our brother’s keeper. If we try, we can find all kinds of excuses that could keep us from this mission. But at the end of the day, we owe it to ourselves and the people we serve to be well trained and well prepared each and every time we go out the door. It remains to be seen if VSP is another tool to be placed in our toolbox.

Congratulations to Fireman Peter Demontreux of 132 Truck for a job well done.

References
1. FDNY’s Demontreux Awarded 2011 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, Fire Engineering, FDIC, March 2011
2. Survivability Profiling: How Long Can Victims Survive in a Fire? Fire Engineering, Marsar, July 2010
3. Survivability Profiling: Are the Victims Savable? Fire Engineering, Marsar, December 2009
4. “%$#@ “Victim Survivability Profiling”; Do Your Primary Search” The Fire Service Warrior, Brennan, October 2010
5. “Survivability Profiling – continuing discussion” The Fire Service Warrior, Brennan, November 2010
6. IAFC Rules of Engagement



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5 Comments

  • Hey Dave and Bill,

    The actions of FF Demontreux, and the ongoing examples of “why we search”, continue to demonstrate that while we always have learning and thinking about our job and how it can be done… WE STILL HAVE TO DO OUR JOB! We are not God, in any form, therefore we don’t get to choose whether someone lives or dies. We simply have to go in and get ‘em… period!

    “Those who have ability to act, have the responsibility to act.” (Author unknown)

  • Patrick L. Brown says:

    Dave, I believe in aggressive interior firefighting yet believe in Survivability profiling. Yes, we signed up for this job which entails risking our lives to save another life. It does not me we need to kill our selves to recover a dead body. Survivability profiling has a large gray area where the answer to go vs no go is not definite. There are and have been incidents in which we have lost firefighters in cases when no civilian could possibly be alive. You sited the Homewood incident. I personally spoke with firefighters who were at the fire including one of the burned firefighters. Each person described the same conditions on arrival. They each said there was thick, heavy, pushing black smoke from ceiling to 2ft above the floor when they tried to make entry… Each said they could not see directly in front of their face pieces. each said that the room lit up soon after entry and described the carpeting melting to their knees. This conditions described are not survivable, period. That thick, black, pushing smoke is hotter then hell and even more toxic….that smoke was just waiting for something it was missing to ignite (my assumption is it needed O2). It ignited, killing one inexperienced firefighter and burned others. We can armchair all we want. The problem is we are losing experience everyday when guys retire and the chances to gain experience just don’t come along enough. Some departments go weeks, months, years between fires. The survivability profile is a tool they can use to help fill the experience gap. It may not be a tool for you but it is a valuable tool. Remember, firefighters are not disposable and not interchangeable. We need to value each firefighter so that when the time comes he can utilize his skills to save a LIFE.
    Stay safe brother.
    Pat

  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    Patrick,

    All good points and thanks for the insight into Homewood. My point in referencing Homewood is that Profiling was sited as a problem, yet you are hard pressed, by the authors own admission to find practical examples of it being used.

    I have said more than once, every situation is a situation. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, you have to make the decisions at your fire. Hopefully you will be right more often than not.

    The experience gap is becoming a living and breathing thing, and it seems that each day we throw something else at it to try and feed it. If we go back and focus on the basics, I think we will do more to save firefighters than constantly developing new ways to accomplish out mission.

    I am not sure Survivability Profiling can fill the experience gap, because one could argue that it will require a store of experiences for the firefighter/officer to draw on to decide if a life could be saved.

    One could also argue that when that the conditions experienced by Fireman Demontreux would not be survivable. Which is the point of my writing. Clearly if it is too hot for a fully equipped firefighter to advance then the likelihood a civilian victim to survive would be remote. yet in this case the victim was in an area of refuge that allowed just that. Is it possible the victim in Homewood could have been in an area refuge? We know now that it was not. But was the Officer able to determine that, from the front lawn, when the first company arrived? It is hard to say, I wasn’t there. Certainly the conditions you describe make it unlikely.

    I am not sold on Profiling as a viable tool. The author of the research isn’t either, according to his own words. Certainly I consider the conditions on arrival before I take any action, that is part of my size up. I do not consider myself risky or dangerous. I like to think I am a student of firefighting. I take the lives of my crew very seriously, but I also take the commitment I made to the citizens I protect seriously.

    Thanks for your comments brother,

    Stay safe…

  • Good discussion gents.

    To me, it all comes down to size-up. When you see reports citing factors to injury/death, they seem to consistently list size-up and survival profile as separate items. My hang up is that I do not feel as though these are mutually exclusive. Survivability is just one factor I’m making in a game of assumptions when deciding on tactics. To me, the bigger question is not “could anyone possibly be alive?”, but “do the conditions I’m observing permit me to initiate a search?”

    With no way of knowing exactly which doors/areas are closed off from the fire, one can’t reasonably assume that anyone iside would be dead (again, based on conditions presenting and information at hand).

    With poor conditions from the start, I’m not going to commit to traditional search, but consider other options/areas of the structure for limited searching. Take a Sac Metro fire in this month’s FE mag. Garden apartment with heavy fire showing from A and C sides of a 2nd floor apt. Obviously, they couldn’t just go in the front and do a right-hand, but they considered other options for rescuing the known victim. A coordinated VES operation (based on what they were presented with) led to the rescue of a school-aged child from a bed in a room with heavy black sooty smoke below bed level. Child was apneic with a CO level of 23 and successfully revieved (left hospital x1 week later, no deficit).

    These crews were successful, not because they did their size up and then asked themselves if anyone was still reasonably alive (window next to victims’s room had heavy fire showing), but because they saw that conditions presenting prevented normal operations and said, “are there any other options?” after being told a kid was still in there.

  • Bill Carey says:

    Readers,

    It appears that over the week two comments to “Courage and Valor” were inadvertently removed when clearing out spam. We want you to know that in no way was this censorship of any comments but only a mistake. We stand by our policy to post all comments, agreeable and opposing, so long as they have have the reader’s name or department name.

    Bill Carey

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Backstep Firefighter

“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”

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