If the occupant dies after the fire, we don't worry about the rules so much, right?
The Vallejo, California fire[i] from September brings to mind another similar fireground incident. As Dave LeBlanc wrote about earlier[ii], the fatal rescue attempt in Homewood, Illinois[iii] has key similarities with that in Vallejo that should cause us to question what context do our life safety rules, as well as the concept of Victim Survivability Profiling[iv] (VSP), apply? Do the rules carry heavier weight when used as a recommendation after a firefighter dies? Are they left standing in the wings when a rescue is successful and a firefighter follows the victim to the burn center? We’ve seen the Facebook and forum comments on the Homewood fire, and while there are certain details (and more than one mention that Homewood had problems well before the fire) I’m focusing on the basic similarities as they relate to our common rules and how our sub-cultures have interpreted actions at each fire.
In Homewood, staffing of the first-due engine was three personnel along with two from a first-due ambulance. Incidentally, it was the two on the ambulance who became the victim and injured firefighter. In Vallejo, staffing of the engine was three.
While the structures varied (private dwelling and double-wide mobile home) it is important to note that each victim was located in the fire room, the area of the fire’s origin.
Each fire had an initial alarm reporting a trapped occupant. In Homewood, this was done by the wife of the deceased occupant. In Vallejo, this was done by the occupant himself. When first due crews arrived in Homewood, they were met with residents and police reporting a trapped victim. In Vallejo, first due crews reported hearing the victim yelling for help.
In Homewood the firefighter killed was involved in search and rescue. In Vallejo, the injured firefighter was also involved in search and rescue; however, in Homewood the deceased firefighter was inside at the same time as other firefighters with a charged hoseline. In Vallejo, the injured firefighter was not accompanied by a crew with a charged hoseline.
The Glaring Difference
In Homewood, the victim and the firefighter died. In Vallejo, the victim died.
So, not considering the other extenuating factors and focusing soley on the rescue at each fire, ponder this:
There is a lot that can be written and rewritten about the strategy, tactics, risk and culture at each fire but the biggest question I challenge you to think about is, if the Vallejo firefighter had died would the fire service have said he had done an “Inadequate risk-versus-gain analysis”?
If so, then why not say the same since he lived. The occupant, after all, died.
If you say that we must use VSP, we must have greater attention paid to risk versus benefit analysis, then you must also say that the burned Vallejo firefighter was operating wrongly, and should have not placed himself at risk for the injuries he received.
See the dilemma we place ourselves in when we have rigid rules regarding risk?
[iii] One Career Fire Fighter/Paramedic Dies and a Part-time Fire Fighter/Paramedic is Injured When Caught in a Residential Structure Flashover – Illinois, NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, September 13, 2010