Mike Lombardo, Commissioner (retired) -- Buffalo, NY, Fire Department
Risk analysis models influence much of the fireground decision making in the fire service today. But at times we are called to go against these models, act against the odds. The results of such actions are sometimes tragic and sometimes successful. Regardless of the outcome, the fire service must remember that we are a human service, and a standard set of rules or guidelines cannot always dictate the actions of firefighters who serve the public.
We were part of the full first-alarm assignment dispatched to a report of a fire on Townsend Street in Buffalo, New York. The assignment consisted of three engine companies, two truck companies, a rescue company, and a battalion chief.
Truck 11 arrived right behind Battalion 3; the fire was only two blocks from the unit’s quarters. It is a single unit stationed only with the chief; it carries no water and was staffed that evening with five firefighters and an officer. On arrival, the fire was observed venting from two doors and two windows on the number 4 side, from the first-floor rear apartment of this two-story wood-frame dwelling.
With very heavy fire venting from every opening on the number 4 side of the building except one and no engine company yet on location, the prudent decision would have been to await the arrival of an engine and the stretching of a line. However, there were also a frantic mother and father screaming that one of their children was not yet out of the apartment.
Battalion Chief Tom McNaughton also relayed to us that a child was indeed inside the building. He requested that we attempt to enter and search for the child.
There were no openings on the number 3 side of the structure, and windows on the number 2 side were immediately inaccessible by security bars (doors to the apartment were on the number 4 side).