As the alarm sounded and the call was dispatched many thoughts began running through the minds of every firefighter on duty. However, every firefighter responding was prepared to perform his and her job without hesitation.
As firefighters we always discuss the importance of being prepared and how preparation starts with preplanning, daily apparatus and equipment checks and meaningful training. This particular incident is a testament to preplanning, solid operational procedures, training and dedication of the City of Salisbury firefighters. The members of our department often work tirelessly to make this the best department possible. However, they deserve much more praise and recognition for their actions.
Routinely the men and women of the Salisbury Fire Department establish water supplies on reported structure fires — even with nothing showing — and practice quality engine and ladder placement, always expecting and preparing for the worst. The training officer works hard to provide realistic and meaningful training and requires chief officers to be an inclusive part of training exercises. Crews participate in inspections as well as preplanning on a weekly basis, which allows them to become very familiar with the buildings in our community. These important aspects as well as many more daily operations led to a safe and productive operation at Oakey Dokey.
The fire at Oakey Dokey falls within the primary fire district (downtown) area of Salisbury. This district is set up with a heavy box alarm on reported fires that includes four engines, two ladders a battalion chief, safety chief and division chief from the City of Salisbury. In addition to these on duty units we automatically receive four additional engines, one ladder and chief from the surrounding departments, all on the initial alarm.
On this day as the battalion made the turn toward downtown they noticed heavy smoke in the area and requested a second and third alarm, which included four additional engines and another ladder from surrounding departments as well as a request of off duty Salisbury Fire Department personnel. The heavy alarm and the quick call for additional resources by the battalion chief allowed for added companies without delay and included a total of 12 engines, four ladders and multiple chief officers, in addition to off duty personnel to staff reserve engines and to maintain fire protection within the city.
Upon arrival of the first engine (Rescue Engine 1), the company officer reported heavy white smoke pushing from the second floor windows. He quickly established a water supply and selected a two and one-half hose line as he communicated with incoming units that crews would be in the offensive mode of operation. The officer also knew the best access to the second floor was from a common stairwell accessible from the exterior of the building. Incoming officers evaluated the scene and continued the size-up by lapping the structure. The Battalion ordered all companies to operate the Tax Payer (Standard Operating Procedures) and began confirming the assignments of incoming companies as he established command from the “A” side of the building.
Ladder 1 (see figure 1) was ordered to perform primary search as Rescue Engine 1 proceeded to the second floor for fire attack. Engine 2 quickly established the secondary water supply and assisted Engine 4 with rapid intervention. Quint 3 arrived on the scene and the company positioned on the “Alpha” side of the building for aerial operations and Ladder 4 was assigned to the “Bravo” side of the building for aerial operations. The Incident Command (IC) ordered a special RIC alarm from Charlotte, Concord and Kannapolis fire departments due to the potential complexity of the incident, which included multiple retail units, ordinary construction and possible residential tenants.
As the back-up line and RIC team took position Rescue Engine 1 and Ladder 1 began ascending the stairs. The officers led the crews using their thermal imaging cameras and encountered heavy fire extending from the second floor door into the hallway at the top of the stairs. The crew of Ladder 1 stayed close to Rescue Engine 1 as not to get too far ahead of the hose line.
As the fire was blackened down the company officers using the thermal imagers noticed a large hole just over the threshold of the hallway door. The two officers quickly conversed and decided to back out to the bottom of the stairs fearing the structural components may have been compromised. As this transpired there was a report that fire was in the basement and the IC quickly called a “code red” and evacuated the building. A quick PAR (Population At Risk) was conducted and the IC advised all crews that the mode of operation was switching to defensive.
As crews transitioned to a defensive operation, proper aerial placement allowed them to immediately place master streams (see figure 2) in the second floor windows and darken down the remaining fire. Crews ascended the ladders and were able to evaluate the stability of the floor from the ladder and determined the floor was stable enough to resume interior offensive operations. Ground floor crews pulled ceilings near the entrance as they proceeded into main floor and confirmed the fire had been contained to the point of origin and had not spread horizontally through the void of the first floor ceiling and second floor. Multiple companies continued working to overhaul the building to insure the fire had not extended beyond the second floor and into the attic.
(Figure 1) Ladder 1 is shown here setting up.
This fire had tremendous potential to heavily damage an entire block of our downtown. However, because the members of the Salisbury Fire Department train in areas such as the “Art of Reading Smoke” and Fire Flow Path Management they were able to quickly determine this incident was an offensive attack. The good leadership demonstrated by company officers being to the front and leading the interior crews, using thermal imaging cameras to safely progress forward, recognizing hazardous situations and backing out to a safe area, is an example of mature and disciplined leaders.
The training of engineers to properly spot apparatus shows the benefits of always expecting the worst and provided the groundwork for companies to make a smooth transition from an offensive mode of operation to a defensive mode of operation. Additionally the quarterly training and strong working relationship displayed by automatic aid and mutual aid departments created a seamless, safe fire ground operation with a successful outcome.
There were many other success stories found in the operations of this particular fire, including the interoperability with regional fire departments from Charlotte, Concord and Kannapolis. In addition to the operations with our support members we work with routinely were sound because of training and open dialogue. We owe many thanks to the American Red Cross, Salisbury Police, City of Salisbury Fleet, Salisbury Transit, Salisbury Public Works, Salisbury Utility, Rowan County Emergency Services and Rescue Squad as well as the many Rowan County Fire Departments who responded (see figure 3).
The daily practices of the men and women of the Salisbury Fire Department to be the best and treat every reported fire as a true fire until proven otherwise and to train with meaning, builds confidence. The time spent checking equipment and apparatus leads to a department that is combat ready at all times. So let us not forget these daily practices become habit and habits become the norm, and treat every call as if you were responding to your own home. Check your equipment thoroughly, train with meaning and create good habits daily. Everything else will fall into place.
Battalion Chief David Morris began his fire service career with the Salisbury Fire Department in 1992. Chief Morris has served in all ranks in Salisbury before his appointment to Chief of Training in 2004. He is the past fire chief for the Granite Quarry Volunteer Fire Department where he was a member for over 20 years. Chief Morris holds Instructor II certification as well as several firefighter and fire officer certifications. He is a 2008 graduate of the Municipal Administration program at University of North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill and holds an associate degree in Fire Protection Technology from Guilford Tech as well as a bachelor degree in Emergency Management from Western Carolina University.