“Get those reporters out of my perimeter,” she shouted.
Police officers immediately moved to round up errant news crews. Many of these officers were older than Danny by several, and in a few cases many, years. Despite this, they did their job efficiently; after all, she was the Fire Commissioner. Danny didn’t lord over the individual fire crews or their captains. She new many of them personally and trusted their judgment. Her presence was not really needed here, but the freshness of her election and the growing regional and national attention necessitated she be present.
The fire was rapidly contained. The fire itself wasn’t the issue. The size of the building required multiple attacks to contain and suppress the flames. Containment was nearing completion; several crews were entering the building to prevent flare-ups and to continue the suppression effort. Everyone was starting to relax. Many of the units were breaking down and cleaning equipment. They started transporting equipment and personnel to their fire stations around the city.
Suddenly, the ground below the spectators rumbled. It was enough to knock many of them off their feet and set off car alarms blocks away. Danny was glad the perimeter was established in the earliest stages of the suppression effort. A BLEVE – boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion – consumed the bottom floor of the building. The BLEVE scorched vehicles and singed personnel as far away as one hundred meters. The BLEVE was moved so quick that no one had a chance to react, and it burned out quickly. There was still A-triple-F – advanced film forming foam – everywhere so the building didn’t flare up again. Other than some very scared bystanders, no one appeared to be seriously injured.
A commotion from one of the crews attracted Danny’s attention – something was happening, and there were a lot of professional fire fighters upset about something. The colorful language coming from the crew chief of the unit in the building was carrying – something had gone wrong.
“I want a crew in there yesterday! Get your shit together! Let’s move it! Move! Move! Move!”
Danny recognized the crew chief by the ball cap that was his attempt to conceal his receding hairline. He was supposed to be on vacation, but stopped to assist on the way out of town.
Danny ran up to the group, her duffle flopping against her hip. “Chief, what’s going on?”
“Miss Peterson,” he greeted.
Danny ignored the formal nature he addressed her; he had always called her Danny, but this was a stressful event.
“We think that the BLEVE was the result of the failure of a flammable liquid storage facility under this building. Our team was investigating and we believe they were securing access to the storage tanks. There hasn’t been any radio contact since the explosion. We need a crew in there now!”
The chief returned to barking orders to get a proper crew together to investigate. Without hesitation Danny spoke up, “Chief, I have my gear right here, you get me three other guys, and we’ll get in there.”
The chief turned to make sure he had heard her correctly only to see her suiting up and adjusting the mask to her OBA, or oxygen breathing apparatus. Within seconds of agreeing to go in, Danny had a crew of three and they were running toward the building.
Getting to the basement to assess the storage tank was not any harder than many of the other scenes they witnessed during their careers as professional firefighters. They made good time to the access hatch, and began the search for the missing crew. It was sometimes difficult, and they had to stay in visual contact with each other at all times. They were eager to rescue their missing comrades but safety was paramount – losing another crew wouldn’t help anyone.
They were able to locate all members of the missing crew except one. The search continued as the rescued crewmembers were evacuated to safety. It was painstakingly slow returning for each crewmember, but they were a team and forced themselves to stay together. One firefighter was still unaccounted for and Danny’s crew began to worry they wouldn’t find their comrade in time.
Danny scrutinized the articulated access hatch again. Something doesn’t add up, she thought. There were charred uniform tatters peeking out from the seal. She grasped the latch with both hands and pulled. She hoped the hatch would give way before her back did. The hatch groaned against her efforts, but opened nearly falling on her. She scrambled out from under the path of the opening hatch, and those around began shouting for help. A burned, face down body was floating in who knew what flammable liquid. It appeared they would be recovering remains today.
Next: Low Fuel Warning