Vinton home burns. 10 or more minutes to get an Engine on scene… 1st due is .22 miles away!

Almost a week ago now (last Monday November 29th) City Engine 6 caught a fire. Now, that in itself is not news … those guys catch a lot of work. What is news is some of the circumstances surrounding the fire. I am not going to “point fingers” here but, I think there are some VERY serious issues that have arose and questions that need to be asked. I’ll throw out what I know and let you guys take it from there.

The fire was not in our City. Station #6 (Engine and Medic … 5 members) ran the call as “mutual aid”. The Incident occured in the “Town” of Vinton which is just across the line (6 Engine could / should have been there in 4 minutes or less). This will be confusing so hang in… Vintonis what I will call a combination Department.  I’m not sure the length of their shifts (I think they work 12hr shifts 6am-6pm) but during the daylight hours, their only station is staffed by paid personnel ( the Town of Vinton and Roanoke County Fire / Rescue personnel) . At the time of the incident, the paid staff was off duty and all incidents were to be handled by volunteers. See the Vinton Volunteer Fire Department web site HERE. It took them 10 minutes to get out on this one. Take a moment to read the local coverage   HERE .

I think the way their dispatch sequence goes is this … They received the initial (first)  call. Members respond POV to the Station where they then need a minimum of 3 to respond. After 4 minutes the incident is dispatched again as “second call” (2nd call for a response). Then, after another 3 minutes, it goes to “3rd call” for the initial companies and they begin adding the 3rd / 4th due and / or mutual aid etc. This is when Engine #6 got the call.

The distance is 1.3 miles and a 3 minute trip according to Mapquest (the City limits “line” is basically on the West border of Fallon Park).
In contrast, the Vinton station is .22 miles away with an estimated trip time of 1 minute…

Whats the big deal? Happens all the time in small Volunteer Departments right? This is where everything “goes to hell in a hand basket”. Engine 6 was dispatched to assist Vinton with a house “fully envolved”. The Captain attempted to contact Vinton to assure he knew where he was going (he doesn’t run into Vinton on a regular basis). After a couple attempts (on the County assigned Tac channel … separate radio systems, channels etc) Engine 6 was contacted by “Chief 2”. He advised to turn left on 3rd Street, just across the line and Clevland would be on his right at the top of the hill. He further advised that there was a hydrant at that intersection (not to “catch it… just that it was there).

Engine 6 quickly arrived to find nothing showing and the intersection blocked by either an ambulance or Police vehicle. The Captain was scratching his head … no fire trucks … nothing showing .. etc.  Where is everybody? What’s going on here? He notices someone standing in the front yard, just up the block; talking on a radio. No coat, no helmet etc but he looked as if he may be in charge. The Captain gets out and walks over to this person. “Hey buddy, what do ya got”? Then he seen it. Flames were visible from the 2nd floor. The Captain signals his men, stretches a line and prepares to make an attack.

He still has no idea what is going on yet. He doesn’t know that Vinton hasn’t gotten out. He could very easily be thinking that the Vinton crews will be right on his heels. He then notices a civilian going in and out of the front door of the house on fire. He grabs him and tells him to stay out andto get off the porch. The man attempts to go back in stating his “cats” were in there. The Captain looks to the man with the radio (Command??) andrequest that he “do something” with this guys. He also requests that he (the man with the radio) have someone  bring him the / a hydrant (he had 500 gal. on the truck).  He enters the structure.

Once he began his attack, he needed more pressure on the line. He attempts to contact command(assuming that’s who the person with the radio in the front yard is). No reply. He tries again .. no reply. He then tries to raise “control” (dispatch) then tries to reach his pump operator directly. Again, no reply from either. The Captain switches back to our City frequency and is able to get dispatch on his 1st attempt. He advises her that he is on a fire in Vinton, making an attack and can’t reach his Engine. He states that he is OK at the time but requests that she attempt to contact Engine 6 and have him increase pressure on the line. Now our dispatch is confused.

The Captain then requested that our City Battalion contact him. The Chief quickly answers up. The Captain explains the situation and request additional City resources. Our Battalion andLadder 1 respond.

The Captain now notices that he has fire below him (the house was divided into two apartments.. up and downstairs). He split his crew of 4 and instructed two of his men to exit and stretch a 2nd line to the first floor… he and their 4th member would remain and hold the 2nd floor. After a few minutes, he feels the 2nd floor will hold and advises his fireman that they will move down to assist on the 1st (where he now knows the fire is being hit). When he backs down the steps, he doesn’t see the 2nd line through the door. Hummm? The two members he had assigned the attack rejoined the Captain and explain.

Vinton has arrived. They caught the hydrant but kept it for themselves!  ( South Kentland or poor tactics?)   Then, they stretched a 2 1/2″ from their truck. They had it out back throwing water through a window. The additional City units have arrived. A few more issues arose as far as overhaul operations but I’ll stop here … you have a general idea.  Let’s look at the problems here….or some of em anyway…

POOR DISPATCH. The City Captain had NO IDEAwhat he was running in to. The County should have advised the City and then the City advised Engine 6 that no other units had responded or arrived yet. Engine 6 had no way of knowing that he may be 1st in and that it may be some time before he got a unit from Vinton or the County. At least then, he could have requested additional units from the City.

POOR PLACEMENT.  The intersection was blocked by and ambulance and/or Police vehicle. The Captain had to get out and walk up to the scene.

LACK OF COMMAND. Obviously, the person in the front yard was in “command” but Engine 6 didn’t know that. A command “post” was not established nor was the Incident Commander easily identifiable. He didn’t even have on a turnout coat or helmet.

POOR / NO COMMUNICATIONS.  See “Poor dispatch”. Chief 2 gave directions to the scene and the hydrant location but no assignment. When the Captain walked up to him, he never identified himself as the Chief or “IC”. He never explained that Vinton is not getting out and we have no companies en route . Apparently, no direction was given to Vinton once they did get en route and arrived.
Our City radios failed while using the County channels. The Captain could not “get out” on their digital system. Our Chiefs have pulled the tapes. They have multiple extended  “key ups” from E6 but no voice.
No “division” or “group” assignments were made by the IC
Incoming companies were not aware of the assignments underway on scene.

POOR STRATEGY AND TACTICS.  More like the lack of. Why would the Vinton Engine lay in andNOT supply the City Engine who was pumping a line with members interior?
After they kept the supply line for themselves, why stretch a 2/12″ and throw water through a window..again with members operating interior?
No primary or secondary searches were made.
Overhaul operations were delayed due to City personnel being held outside (after changing their bottles, they were told that there were enough people inside…(there were 2). Meanwhile, they stood in the yard watching the smoke change indicating a working fire.

Ok, again; I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. I don’t want it to seems as though I’m pointing fingers or directing blame… but come on … seriously!

Should we even be providing Mutual or Automatic Aid? NOT in situations like this! Our City members were put at risk. If we are going to run into adjoining jurisdictions … we need to send a full compliment. Had that fire received 2 engines, a Ladder, medic, Battalion and Rescue supervisor from the City, I dare say it would have been handled in less than 1 hour. Now, had Vinton and the County been able to provided a full assignment (in a timely manner) I am sure that they too could have handled the situation quickly and easily. This is not a paid vs volunteer or City vs County Issue. It’s about being professional and doing our job.

Many will say that the City captain should have never entered the structure.  THEN DON’T SEND HIM! If they didn’t need him there .. if they didn’t need someone to put that fire out .. let it burn. Leave the City Engine where it belongs… IN THE CITY.

Our administrations like Auto and Mutual aid agreements because they look good on paper. They are good for ISO and Accreditation. BUT, what looks good on paper doesn’t always work on the street. These are just a few of the problems etc encountered that night. What do you think? How does your department handle mutual and Auto-aid?

 What about the City citizens in Station #6’s first due? What if there had been a fire or medical emergency in their 1st due while they were  in Vinton? Protocol says the 2nd, 3rd due Engines, Medics etc would handle but that would have increased  response times to “that” incident. Is that fair to the City residents? Is it “playing the numbers” .. “playing the odds”? If it is, I hope it’s not your number that comes up the next time they decide to play.

I want to add here that I know a lot of Brothers and Sisters from both the Town of Vinton and Roanoke County. Most of the time, the majority of those members do a good job (knowing there are “shit birds” in every Department .. including mine). Again, this is not and should not become a paid vs volunteer or City vs County issue. It should be seen as a sort of “near miss” incident. A SAFETY ISSUE. If the jurisdictions involved don’t find a solution to these problems, we are going to see some injured members.

Let me hear your thoughts and comments.  What do you think??
Thanks for reading… Stay safe and in house.
Captain Wines