Loudoun County Flashover: Escape from Floor 2

Previous posts examined key factors and initial company operations at a residential fire involving flashover that resulted in multiple firefighter injuries at a residential fire in Loudoun County, Virginia. This post will examine the action taken by the trapped firefighters and crews on the exterior.

Reserve Engine 6 was performing fire attack on Floor 2 and Tower 6 had just completed searching the second floor when they experienced a rapid increase in temperature and thickening smoke conditions. Flames were extending from the first floor, up the open foyer and staircase, trapping the two crews on Floor 2.

Floor 2

When the firefighter from Reserve Engine 6 opened the nozzle, the line immediately lost pressure. The engine company officer attempted to diagnose the problem without success. Unknown to the engine crew, the hoseline had partially failed approximately 10′ from the nozzle, drastically reducing the available flow. Lacking an effective stream, the engine crew moved down the hallway towards Bedroom 2 in an attempt to find an alternate means of egress.

Partial collapse of the ceiling separated the Tower 6 firefighter and officer. The firefighter joined up with the crew from Reserve Engine 6 in Bedroom 2. The Tower 6 firefighter partially closed the bedroom door, providing some relief from the increasing temperature. The two firefighters and officer trapped in Bedroom 2 were able to escape over a ladder placed on Side Charlie by the apparatus operator of Reserve Engine 6. It is likely that this quick action by the tower firefighter in closing the door had a significant impact on the tenability of Bedroom 2 for the time required for these three individuals to escape.

Trapped in the Master Bedroom, the officer from Tower 6 attempted to break a window to escape the increasing temperature and thick smoke, but was unable to do so. He exited the master bedroom and eventually escaped through an unspecified window on Floor 2, Side Charlie.

Several factors contributed to the survival of the crews working on floor 2:

  • Proper use of personal protective equipment
  • Recognition of rapidly deteriorating conditions
  • Immediate action to locate an alternate means of egress
  • Availability of a secondary egress route provided by the ladders placed by the apparatus operators of the tower and engine
  • Closing of the door to Bedroom 2 to increase tenability during emergency egress

Read the report for additional detail on this incident.

The crews of Reserve Engine 6 and Tower 6 who were on Floor 2 had completed survival skills and flashover training. Training and quick reactions contributed to their survival, but increased situational awareness, earlier recognition of developing fire conditions, and control of the fire environment would likely have prevented this accident.

The next post will examine key issues in training focused on “reading smoke” as well as flashover and survival skills training.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE, CFO

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