Last Saturday, April 18, the Mesquite Fire Department held a morning training event at their burn tower behind Station 3 off of W Pioneer Boulevard (on John Deere).
According to Chief Kash Christopher, the facts within the scenario that was to be enacted is something that happens on a day to day basis in regards to response times and crew availability.
“This is straight from one of our calls from last Labor Day (2014). I have six people on duty. One of our crews is in Las Vegas doing an ALS call (transport to another hospital), and another is in Mesquite doing a medical call, leaving me with two people available.” The time of day for this scenario was for the middle of the night, when most people are sleeping, making it the most vulnerable time for people to be susceptible to smoke and fire casualties.
With the help of Valerie Martinez, a mock call was made to 911 dispatch. Martinez acted as a neighbor who noticed the smoke coming out of the victim’s garage area.
Once the call went out from the dispatch center to all available personnel, time seemed to slow to
“NFDA standard requires us to have 13 people on scene to begin an offensive attack on any fire,” said Christopher.
With the first crew, Engine 11, on scene, they begin a defensive attack from the outside as they wait for other personnel by hosing down the exterior of the garage area, where the fire is visible. Captain Shawn Tobler, one of the two on scene, takes command, putting out calls to other personnel, agencies and the Police Department for assistance. All this, while he is spraying down the outside of the garage.
Calls to other outside agencies are momentarily unsuccessful, with Beaver Dam being delayed by 20 minutes due to distance and Bunkerville with a 15 minute delay to get their volunteer personnel together and to their equipment. An additional call is made to all off-duty personnel to respond, if they are able. In this instance, being a holiday weekend, chances are that those who were scheduled to have the weekend off may have gone out of town or participated in activities that would not allow them to respond. Both the Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief are also notified and arrive on scene at some point during the incident.
“Before you make any entry on a rescue attempt, you have to have a minimum of 4 people on site – 2 to go in and 2 on outside. We have to make sure everything is in place to go in, grab, and get out,” said Christopher.
Tobler asks for Mesquite Police to respond and to talk to neighbors to try and determine if there is anyone inside the structure. Finally, dispatch confirms that there is possibly a family of four, including two children, which live in the residence. With the vehicles being parked outside, chances were that the family was inside, asleep.
Deputy Chief Rick Resnick arrives to relieve Tobler from command, leaving him to focus on operations.
Truck 31 arrives on scene, giving two more personnel to the scene. At this point of the simulation, the fire has been burning for 21 minutes. No one has been in or out of the structure.
At 28 minutes, there are finally enough personnel on site that the crews finally make entrance to the house with water to knock the fire down. But it proved to be too late this time. Three bodies were found inside the structure, all deceased despite CPR attempts from personnel.
Having all of the personnel that they did manage to get, on top of Beaver Dam and Bunkerville finally arriving, the rest of the city would be virtually unprotected with all resources being dedicated to this one incident.
At 32 minutes, the exercise was terminated.
“We had an incident last year, on Bull Whip Point, the two people that lived inside that house, the owner said he got up, he could smell smoke, he thought it was a campfire somewhere. He went back to bed. He was sound asleep. If the neighbor who lived behind him had not been coming home from a show in Las Vegas when he did, and did not knock on his door, at which time the garage was engulfed, it would have ended much differently.”
The smoke detectors did not go off, because the fire had gone up into the attic went over the top and back down. The cause on that fire was a water heater that had been installed earlier that day. The pipe had heated up and ignited the insulation. Thankfully, both residents escaped without injuries and only one firefighter sustained a small injury but was able to keep fighting the blaze without medical attention.
Chief Christopher noted that the owner of the house had said that “the only reason I got out of that house was because my neighbor woke me up or I would have slept right through it.”
“We have a lot of people who are advanced in their age and cannot move around that well. This is a highly-likely scenario,” said Christopher. “We need to be vigilant in being aware of our surroundings.”
MFD has applied for the SAFER Grant which could give them 13 people on duty, bringing safer scenarios, higher success rates and reduce the reliance on help from Beaver Dam or Bunkerville.
“If we get the SAFER Grant, it will also improve our ISO rating,” said Councilwoman Cindi Delaney, who was in attendance. “It will also encourage growth. The stronger department we have the better.”
The ISO is an advisory company that consults with insurance companies, affecting the cost of insurance a city must pay each year based on their abilities in several areas. Ultimately, the increased staff could actually save the city more money.
“Right now we are a four out of 10. With this grant, we will go up to a two, which is better,” said Christopher.
“A fire doubles in size every minute,” said Deputy Chief Rick Resnick. “If a smoke detector doesn’t wake you up within the first minute, chances are you won’t wake up in time.”
At last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Letter of Recommendation was approved to be created and sent for the SAFER Grant. Hopefully, the MFD will be awarded the grant and can sustain the new staff after the two-year funding is exhausted.