Safety is priority in fire fighter training

March 16, 2012

From “Firefighter Escapes From Being Buried By Collapsed Ceiling” — When a ceiling of a burning Chippewa County town of Lafayette duplex collapsed Tuesday, pinning him to the floor, firefighter John Andersen’s thoughts flashed to a similar fire earlier this month in which an Abbotsford firefighter died.

Once I realized what happened, it was the first thing that went through my mind, Andersen said Wednesday of the March 4 fire at the Abby Theatre in which a roof collapsed, killing firefighter Jamison Kampmeyer. Three other firefighters were injured in the blaze.”But I could see daylight and the door,” Andersen said. “There was no smoke in the room. It wasn’t like Abbotsford — I wasn’t deep inside a building.”Andersen, 60, is chief of inspection for the Chippewa Fire District, for which he has worked for 35 years. During that time, Andersen estimates he has battled between 200 and 300 fires.

Andersen was at home Tuesday when he received a call at 5:31 p.m. that the duplex at 5672 165th St. was burning. He immediately drove the five miles to the scene of the blaze, north of Highway J near Lake Wissota, just east of Chippewa Falls.

”We carry our turnout gear with us, but not our air packs,” said Andersen, who was the entry officer for the crew entering the north end of the burning home. “We (firefighters) waited for our engines to arrive.”Firefighters used a garage to access the fire, which was mostly in the attic. Andersen was making his way through the living room when the ceiling above him suddenly collapsed.

“It just let loose and fell on my head,” Andersen said. “I went straight down. I got buried from the sheetrock and 18 inches of insulation. One of the guys said I looked like I was tarred and feathered.”

Chippewa Fire District Chief Kent Hulett called for assistance for Andersen. Several firefighters ran to his aid and pulled him from the building.

Andersen, who was wearing his helmet, estimates the weight of the fallen ceiling was 100 pounds.

“I couldn’t move it by myself,” Andersen said. “They had to pull me out of there.”

Marcy Bruflat, a fire training instructor with Chippewa Valley Technical College, said she and other instructors make safety a priority when instructing firefighters. She is unsure whether national firefighting safety organizations will recommend changes to battling blazes based on the Abbotsford fire and others in which roofs have collapsed.

“Will training change? No, at least not immediately,” she said.

However, Bruflat is optimistic firefighters will learn from those fires.

“It is such a reality check; maybe people will be hypervigilant about safety,” she said.

But sometimes even the best prevention training can’t stave off accidents, Bruflat said.

“Sometimes you just don’t see something is going to hit you, even with situational awareness,” she said.

Andersen said he had no idea the ceiling would collapse on him.

“There was no cracking, there was no place where seams were showing up,” he said. “There was no indication of anything.”

The fire apparently started in a lower level of the duplex, where several electronic devices were plugged in.

According to the Chippewa Fire District, occupant Chris Snyder was alerted to the fire by smoke detectors. She said the fire was entering the home through an outside window.

All occupants escaped uninjured. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but it is not being treated as suspicious.


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