Harrison New Jersey – Random thoughts

By now everyone has seen the video, the links, still shots and maybe have even weighed in on what the cause was and whether is was a backdraft or smoke explosion and everything else about this incident.

Here is the link VIDEO

After seeing a lot of stuff about this on social media I had a few thoughts that I will offer for consideration. These are in no specific order.

This is a significant incident that was captured on tape. It should be studied and not critiqued. The departments involved should do a post incident analysis, not the viewers from afar.(I have been guilty of this myself in the past and have learned from my errors)

Whatever it is investigated and determined to be (either backdraft or smoke explosion) it clearly was a catastrophic foreground event. Use this video experience to determine what you would have done just after this explosion.

If you are a chief officer what would your actions be, a deputy or safety chief, a company officer, or a firefighter on the line…..what would you want to do versus what would you do?

Give your thoughts to the department and the members that were injured and to their families. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in these dramatic videos we forget about the human consequences that result. How do you think any of the injured firefighters significant others will feel after watching this video? We need to support them so they can support the injured personnel to return to work.

Study the situation without making judgements about the operation. We are looking at a 30 second (+/-) video here, pretty hard to draw conclusions. Replay it and pause at various places.

It appears this event occurred on the B Bravo side of the building as shown by the google street view links. If you are the incident commander for your department where is your position usually? Side A? In the car? In a mobile command post? Circling the building? Inside the front door? How does the IC in your department receive information? What types of information should be reported?

If you watch the video and you notice some things that you may not like (smoke colors, movement etc.) how long did you have to react to it? Not very long at all. Things like collapse and explosions can not be “reacted” to in a timely manner.

I am not sure what point during the fire that this occurred, but this was a 4 or 5 alarm fire depending upon which report you read. To me this indicates some long duration and probably lots of personnel on the scene on most if not all sides of the building. Think about your own department’s accountability and incident management system and how it would work minutes before and minutes after the explosion

Remember that class in the early days of your recruit school about fire behavior? Fire behavior is truly science that continues to change as structures change, and fuel load and composition changes. Always continually study fire behavior and smoke movement. There is a ton of reading smoke training material out there, absorb it all like a sponge. NOTE: I am not in any way suggesting that the department did not read smoke, I am merely trying to make sure all of the readers use this incident as a teachable moment. The nature of the Internet and sharing of this video is a positive thing.

I personally hope to learn more about this incident as the days and weeks and months unfold, and I hope you will also.

Until we meet up next time, make sure you do whatever you can do at your rank, to prevent a catastrophic fire incident from happening at your next fire. If you cannot do anything to prevent it be sure that you come to work “expecting and anticipating it”, and be sure you are trained physically and mentally to be prepared to deal with it after it occurs.

Nobody expects anything less from you.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013