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Board Receives Report on Mega-mansion Blaze
Prince Frederick, MD - 5/16/2012
By Marty Madden
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“A lot of things were done right. This was a very difficult fire.”
Commissioner Susan Shaw comments on information gathered by the investigators of a serious 2011 fire in Huntingtown.
One of the worst house fires in Calvert County history was analyzed by an outside panel, which concluded the county may need to spend additional resources to better respond to similar incidents. The panel’s report on the March 19, 2011 chimney fire on Soper Road in Huntingtown that heavily damaged a 10,000-square foot mega-mansion near the Patuxent River was presented to the Calvert County Commissioners for review Tuesday, May 15. Ten volunteer firefighters were injured in the blaze.
“In the history of Calvert County Fire/Rescue/Emergency Medical Services there has never been a fire of this magnitude resulting in so many injuries, two of which were life-threatening,” stated Jim Richardson of the Department of Public Safety. The two most seriously injured volunteers have yet to return to active duty.
“It absolutely could have resulted in deaths in the line of duty,” said Chief Billy Goldfeder, an expert on close-call fires who hails from Ohio. Goldfeder was contacted by Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department (Company 6) Chief Jonathan Riffe to head up the significant injury investigation team.
Goldfeder outlined some of the problems firefighters had to cope with at the site, such as lack of adequate water. He admitted it was unrealistic to have “hydrants on every corner in Calvert County” but stated water supply “was a significant issue. Simply put, water puts fires out.” The investigation concluded accessing the nearby river for water was not a viable option due to conditions at the time.
Goldfeder also said the building, which has three levels and was built in 2006, “was not properly sized up” by the responders who first arrived on the scene. Firefighters who accessed the dwelling were challenged by thick smoke, which created zero visibility and by delays in getting a hose line charged. “Heat and smoke increased rapidly,” said Goldfeder. Communication was also an issue. “Not everybody had a portable radio and that’s a crucial lifeline,” Goldfeder said.
“Those radios are critical,” said Captain Justin Green of the Loudoun County, VA Fire Department. Green pointed out that the radios broadcast evacuation tones. During the fire at the Soper Road house, investigators reported the firefighters each scrambled for their lives, some jumping out of a second story window, others running through sheetrock. Goldfeder and Green both recommended every Calvert County volunteer firefighter have a radio on their possession.
The chief noted the house was constructed with some vulnerable materials and indicated the home should have been equipped with a sprinkler system. The isolated location of the house created “the perfect storm,” said Goldfeder.
“This was the worse-case scenario,” said Commissioner Susan Shaw [R]. “The public and press should be aware that a lot of things were done right. This was a very difficult fire. We have to absolutely have to do what we can to keep our firefighters safe.”
Commissioners President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark [R] told the investigators that the county has approved a sprinkler ordinance that will affect the building of new homes once it becomes law this July.
On the positive side, Goldfeder said Company 6’s “Mayday” training “probably led to the survival” of the firefighters.
“This was a bad day,” said the chief. “Things went wrong. We performed an autopsy on this.”
Goldfeder and the other investigators submitted a lengthy list of recommendations. The list includes additional training, planning procedures, chain-of-command policies as well as equipment purchases. The team, which did their detailed probe at no cost to the county, has offered to compile a fiscal summary of the recommended actions. “There needs to be money to support these plans,” said Goldfeder. “We can apply dollar signs to this.”
Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R] suggested the fiscal summary of needs be presented to the board as soon as possible in order to implement the recommendations during the next fiscal year. The commissioners will hold a hearing on their proposed budget next week.
“We’ll come up with the resources to do this,” said Clark, who called Calvert’s all-volunteer fire/rescue and EMS system “a real jewel.”
Contact Marty Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org
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