A (in)human look at the Fire Service and what comes after
Sunday, November 1, 2009
A Headline No One Wants to See
Lakeland Village: Man finds girlfriend dead after motorhome fire - Man wants to know why firefighters did not see her on bedroom floor.
That is the headline that greeted me after clicking on a link that was posted on a news service feed that I receive. You can read the entire article HERE
The short version is that firefighters responded to a reported motorhome on fire and made short work of the fire. After the fire was extinguished, they brought the owner of the motorhome into the coach and showed him the area of origin. As the owner's eyes were stinging, he left the coach. Apparently the crew left the scene shortly afterwards after spending about 51 minutes on scene.
About two hours later, the owner found his girlfriends body on the bedroom floor of the 32 ft. trailer (the RV was reported as both a trailer and a motorhome) and called the crew back out for help. She had soot on her face but was not burned according to the published news report.
The owner was reported to be distraught and also outraged that firefighters did not find his girlfriend.
Oops. This isn't good. Although I would like to think this couldn't happen to me, I can see how it might occur.
Perhaps the fire was confined to the front half of the RV, while the victim was in the back. The crew could have quickly extinguished the fire and briefly checked the back half of the RV for extension. Perhaps if they didn't find any signs of extension, they turned their attention back to the front of the coach and overhauling the fire. In the process, the victim was missed. Maybe the victim was between the bed and the wall and was not visible from the doorway.
Just a theory. I wasn't there and I don't know anyone who was.
I am not defending the crews actions (or lack thereof) in this case, but I am not arrogant enough to think that I don't make mistakes once in a while.This incident exemplifies why it is important to do thorough searches on fire scenes, even in places where we don't expect to find victims.
Every so often, you read about a wrecking yard worker who finds a dead body in the trunk of a burned or wrecked car. That is why I always pop the trunk on any vehicle fire where the driver is not on scene. Most of my friends do so as well.
Years ago, I did a stint in the Investigations Bureau. While doing a cause and origin in a mini - storage unit, I found a body after standing on it's feet for about five minutes. In my defense, the body was burned beyond recognition and was missed by two alarms worth of firefighters, but I will never forget the feeling when I realized what I was standing on. I am just glad I found him rather than the property owner.
Regardless, this was a traumatic event for the victim, her boyfriend and maybe even the crew involved. As a result, you can be sure that I will be even more vigilant when dealing with RV fires. I don't want you to be reading about me in the paper.
My name is Schmoe, I am a retired Fire Captain from a "kind of big" municipal fire department that protects a wide range of risks. I am a little past fifty and spent thirty years on the job. I have been happily married for almost as long and have two young adult sons.