The old cliché–it’s better to be lucky than good–sometimes combines with–being in the right place at the right time. It was mid-afternoon, and the old farmhouse was well involved. Clifford, a department north of us in Susquehanna County, had made a good attack with the manpower they had, blitzing with the deck gun from the driveway and knocking down the bulk of the heavy body of fire. Still, a lot of fire on both floors remained. The incident commander developed a plan to simultaneously put crews on the first and second floors to complete the extinguishment and then begin the overhaul. We talked about this a bit, and decided it would be more prudent to deal with the first floor initially, so we could get a better look at the structure and make sure it was safe to put guys on the second floor. The stability of the second floor was already questionable in my mind, as the stairs going up were gone, burnt away.
I took a team of four to the first floor; two guys on the line and two with hooks and tools opening up the walls and ceiling. They were making good progress on the remaining fire and I was starting to get a look at the supporting elements of the structure when we had a bit of a surprise.
I was kneeling in the living room when a massive crash occurred. Visibility instantly turned to shit. Initially, all I could see was that a portion of the second floor had let go. I ordered an immediate evacuation and started counting heads. “Everybody out!” I yelled through my face piece. The radio mic on my shoulder started screaming with officers outside calling for status reports. I ignored that, at present, pushing guys out the door until I was sure they were all out. About then, the smoke started to lift a bit, and I looked over about two feet to my right. There was a freezer sitting there, which thirty seconds before, had been in a room on the second floor. I exited the building and told the incident commander and the other officers outside what had happened. My hands shook a bit, and my heart still pounded. I was more relieved than scared; relieved that everyone got out alive.
If I had knelt two feet over to the right, I would have been just another line of duty death statistic. Maybe it’s not a cliché after all.