In the early morning hours of August 24th, 2009, the Buffalo Fire Department was dispatched to 1815 Greene St. for a commercial building fire with reported people trapped. The building was heavily secured, but crews were able to access the first and second floors to conduct primary searches which were negative. Access to the basement, however, presented difficulties due to a heavy steel door with multiple deadbolts.
Thirty minutes into the incident, firefighters were ordered out to regroup and make a specific attempt to breach the basement door on the bravo side of the building. Lieutenant Charles “Chip” McCarthy from Rescue 1 and two other firefighters entered the first floor Deli area from the alpha side to verify that previous crews had exited the building. McCarthy was ahead of the other two firefighters and following a hose line when a collapse occurred. The Lieutenant fell into the basement. Shelves fell onto the other two firefighters who also noted deteriorating conditions, and exited the building, unaware that McCarthy had fallen into the fire below. Lieutenant McCarthy activated his PASS alarm and made several MAYDAY radio calls, but his identification and location were not known.
Firefighter John “Simeon” Croom of Ladder 7, part of the rapid intervention team (RIT), reportedly believed he knew where the Lieutenant was located and entered the structure while other team members worked on the bravo side. Other firefighters followed the hose line in on the alpha side and discovered the collapse.
Lieutenant McCarthy was identified as the missing firefighter during the first accountability check, but Firefighter Croom was not identified as missing until a third such check fifty plus minutes after the initial MAYDAY. Ultimately, three alarms were struck for the fire. For the next three hours, a major effort was made to reach the collapse area. Fire conditions and structural concerns limited the ability to reach the victims. The wall on the delta side was breached to gain access to the collapse area and the department worked to shore this exterior wall and the floor in the deli area.
After control of the fire, Lieutenant McCarthy and Firefighter Croom were located, side-by-side in the basement without face pieces on and with SCBA bottles empty. A subsequent NIOSH report included the following recommendations.
· Ensure that all personnel are aware of the dangers of working above a fire, especially a basement fire, and develop, implement, and enforce a standard operating procedure (SOP) that addresses strategies and tactics for this type of fire.
· Ensure that the incident commander (IC) receives interior status reports and performs/continues evaluating risk-versus-gain.
· Ensure that crew integrity is maintained at all times on the fireground.
· Ensure that the incident commander (IC) receives accurate personnel accountability reports (PAR) so that he can account for all personnel operating at an incident.
· Ensure that a separate incident safety officer, independent from the incident commander, is appointed at each structure fire.
On the third anniversary of their passing, may the brothers’ rest in peace.
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