Sunday, March 21, 2010

“Mayday Mayday Mayday”

Three words you never, ever want to hear at a fire scene.

Yesterday there was a three alarm fire in Newton. A house fire. The Brackett House. It’s old – built in 1875. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


We were dispatched with the first alarm at around 1100 yesterday. Kind of a weird day: weather-wise, it was beautiful. Sunny, temperatures around 70 degrees – highly unusual for March in New England; temps are normally around 20 degrees cooler at the height of the day. Arrived on scene to this old, large house with fire on the porch that was just to the right of the front door.

The chief officer who had command assigned his first-in crew to attack the porch.  In doing so they discovered that there was extension of the fire present. From the porch area they found the fire extended up into the third floor attic.

Later on, one of my friends who works on one of the first-alarm companies told me that the attic was like a maze and that the fire jumped from room to room and got up into a space above the attic known as a “cock-loft” – they chased it into the loft where it burned into the roof.

While the crews were working in the attic, the radio traffic erupted with a call for help. Three firefighters working were trapped by part of the roof that fell in on them.

I never saw a scramble like the one that ensued. It wasn’t unorganized; in fact, it was probably one of the most well-coordinated pieces of movement I’ve ever seen. And it was incredibly fast; the RIT team (the company assigned to do interior rescue of other crews in trouble) were in right away. All three firefighters that were stuck were gotten out safely. All had various injuries; one got hit on the head with a slate roofing shingle. He also twisted his leg and wrecked his knee. Another had neck injuries, and the third had back injuries. Fortunately, none were life-threatening.

At the end of the day the firefighters at that call did an awesome job. They didn’t lose the house. From midway to the back was not damaged to the extent that the front was. And it’s possible that the house bay be salvaged. At least I hope so.

Just the same, there is nothing that is as attention-getting – or chilling – as hearing a mayday call. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But I hope I don’t hear that again anytime soon.