In this post we will honor the loss of Lt. Arnie Wolff and the sacrifice of Firefighter Jo Brinkley-Chaudoir. By examining this incident in detail, we will discover lessons that will we can share with others.
At 12:24 PM on August 13, 2006 the Green Bay Fire Department (GBFD) was dispatched to a building fire at 438 Edgewood Drive, Green Bay (WI). The first alarm assignment to this single-family residence included a battalion chief, three engines, one ladder truck, and one ambulance. The first units arrived on the scene approximately three minutes after being dispatched. These units (AM451, EN451, and LA451) responded from Station 5, which is located approximately 0.8 miles from the incident scene. The Acting Captain on Ladder 451 took command of the incident upon arrival.
After size-up, one three-person crew (EN451) entered the front of the building with a 1-3/4” hose line and another two-person crew (AM451) followed to perform search and rescue. As they entered the building the attack line crew moved to the right in an attempt to locate the fire, while the search crew moved to the left. The remaining first alarm units, including Battalion Chief 411, Engine 421, and Engine 411, arrived at the scene during or soon after entry was made. Command was transferred to Battalion Chief 411. Engine 411 was assigned to the role of Rapid Intervention Crew.
Soon after Engine 451 and Ambulance 451 entered the building a truss failure resulted in the collapse of the first floor. The search and rescue crew (AM451) fell approximately 10 feet to the basement, which was fully involved with fire. During the collapse a dividing wall in the basement physically separated Lieutenant Arnie Wolff and Firefighter Jo Brinkley-Chaudoir. Both Lt. Wolff and Firefighter Brinkley-Chaudoir used their portable radios to call “MAYDAY.” This alerted personnel on scene and the dispatcher that was monitoring the incident to the severity of the situation. Personnel on scene were reassigned to the rescue effort and a second alarm was dispatched.
Firefighter Brinkley-Chaudoir fell into a room with windows on the north wall and was eventually rescued by firefighters on scene. She suffered a hip fracture, rib fracture, and burns as a result of this incident. Lt. Wolff fell into a room without windows and the only path of egress was blocked by debris. Though he called MAYDAY, and his integrated PASS alarm sounded, rescuers were not able to reach him due to the intensity of the fire and the fact that he was partially covered by debris.
Official Green Bay Fire Department Lt Arnie Wolff Green Bay FINALReport (A very good detailed report of this incident)
Gear Photos: Note: A special thanks to firefighter Jo Brinkley for discussing this incident with me and for sharing the following pictures!
Incident Building Construction Features: As we mentioned before, the intent of this article is to honor, and also discuss some modern building construction hazards that contributed to this horrific incident.
Building Materials – 438 Edgewood Drive (Source: Green Bay report and firsthand account from Firefighter Jo Brinkley)
Foundation: 9’ Prefab concrete sections bolted together, with panelized foam insulation (petroleum-based) on some interior basement walls
1st Floor support beams: 5 Micro-laminate beams
-Three beams built into floor system
-One steel beam in center of home
1st Floor trusses: “Great Room” (center of home) – 11 7/8” Tongue & Groove Inlay
(TGI) Trusses, 12” on-center (O.C.)
– Side wings: 20” Wood Parallel Cord Trusses, 16” O.C.
Sub-floor: ¾” Oriented-strand Board (OSB)
Floor in area of collapse: OSB, heating coils, poured concrete (1 ½” Gypcrete, 30 lbs.per square foot), ceramic tile. Total = approximately 4 inches
Flooring throughout: Carpet and/or ceramic tile
2nd Floor trusses: 20” Wood Parallel Cord Trusses, 16” O.C. (Traditional 2 x 4)
2 x 6 framing throughout, 16” O.C.
Interior walls: Drywall over wood frame
Exterior: Cultured Stone (70 lbs. per square foot) over wood-frame construction
Standard Roof Trusses, 24” O. C., OSB Roof Sheeting
The materials above should give you a good description of the modern house as a system. Each and every component that contributes to the system is important. However, I want to focus on four specific features that according to the reports and firsthand account. Personally, I feel these features had a major impact on this incident. The next section will shed some light on Insulated Cast-in-place concrete, engineered floor trusses, radiant floor heaters and lightweight (Gypcrete) concrete floors.
1) Insulated Cast-in-place Concrete
There are several insulation systems that work with removable concrete forms. These include insulation on the exterior of a wall, the interior of a wall, both with concrete sandwiched between two panels of insulation or with a panel of insulation sandwiched between two wythe’s of concrete. While I am not a 100 percent sure of exactly how this the cast-in-place wall in this specific incident was constructed, it appears that from photos and from speaking with Firefighter Jo Brinkley, this wall was the type with concrete sandwiched between two panels of insulation.
According to Firefighter Jo Brinkley the “rigid foam was exposed to the interior of the basement” this would be the blue you see in the framed cast in- place wall photo from NIOSH. Also as I have pointed out in the photos, and as described to me from our conversation, there was melted foam that stuck to her gear. This exposed rigid foam insulation would have contributed greatly to the fire load in this basement fire and produced large amounts of black smoke which was described in the reports by on scene crews.
One may ask ‘why use so much rigid foam insulation?’ There are several reasons why you will be seeing a huge increase of rigid foam insulation in the modern construction. The main reason for the increase of rigid foam insulation is it high R-value. Also depending on what EPA climate zone(Click here to see EPA zones) you live in the local building code may require the basement to be insulated to a certain R-value. Another common reason why rigid foam insulation is chosen is because it can also act as a vapor and moisture barriers.
Rigid foam board insulation comes in three types, namely: polystyrene, polyisocyanurate and polyurethane.
NFPA 286 Fire Test for Insulation Video:
Learn more about Rigid Foam (LINK)
2) Engineered Floor Trusses
Free online class Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber:
3) Radiant Floor Heaters
Air-Heated Radiant Floors
Air cannot hold large amounts of heat, so radiant air floors are not cost-effective in residential applications, and are seldom installed. Although they can be combined with solar air heating systems, those systems suffer from the obvious drawback of only producing heat in the daytime, when heating loads are generally lower. The inefficiency of trying to heat a home with a conventional furnace by pumping air through the floors at night outweighs the benefits of using solar heat during the day. Although some early solar air heating systems used rocks as a heat-storage medium, this approach is not recommended (see solar air heating systems).
Electric Radiant Floors
Electric radiant floors typically consist of electric cables built into the floor. Systems that feature mats of electrically conductive plastic mounted on the subfloor below a floor covering such as tile are also available.
Because of the relatively high cost of electricity, electric radiant floors are usually only cost-effective if they include a significant thermal mass such as a thick concrete floor and your electric utility company offers time-of-use rates. Time-of-use rates allow you to “charge” the concrete floor with heat during off-peak hours. If the floor’s thermal mass is large enough, the heat stored in it will keep the house comfortable for eight to ten hours without any further electrical input, particularly when daytime temperatures are significantly warmer than nighttime temperatures. This saves a considerable number of energy dollars compared to heating at peak electric rates during the day.
Electric radiant floors may also make sense for home additions if it would be impractical to extend the heating system into the new space. However, homeowners should examine other options, such as mini-split heat pumps, which operate more efficiently and have the added advantage of providing cooling.
Hydronic Radiant Floors
Hydronic (liquid) systems are the most popular and cost-effective radiant heating systems for heating-dominated climates. Hydronic radiant floor systems pump heated water from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern under the floor. In some systems, controlling the flow of hot water through each tubing loop by using zoning valves or pumps and thermostats regulates room temperatures. The cost of installing a hydronic radiant floor varies by location and depends on the size of the home, the type of installation, the floor covering, remoteness of the site, and the cost of labor.
Floor coverings for radiant floor heating:
Ceramic tile is the most common and effective floor covering for radiant floor heating, because it conducts heat well and adds thermal storage. Common floor coverings like vinyl and linoleum sheet goods, carpeting, or wood can also be used, but any covering that insulates the floor from the room will decrease the efficiency of the system.
4) Lightweight (Gypcrete) Concrete Floors over OSB floor
Gyp-Crete® Data Sheet (Link)
Modern floors are designed to span greater distances to provide an open concept floor plan. This is accomplished by using trusses with reduced mass. Now think about this floor where it had a radiant heating system and the Gypcrete, which added 30 lbs. per square foot. Firefighters need to be aware of this hazard but will only know about it if they conduct walk through as the building is being built.
Hopefully we have shed some light on the building construction factors that day and have given you additional information about these systems.
As we mentioned before, I had the honor to discuss this incident in depth with the surviving Firefighter Jo Brinkley. I was able to ask several questions and would like to share some of the conservation in light of recent UL/NIST research. The following is taken out of the NIOSH report to describe the actions that day for the purpose of discussion. “Ladder 451 set up and started the PPV fan at the front door and proceeded to the C-side of the structure to conduct horizontal ventilation at approximately 1233 hours.” “Upon entry, the officer and two fire fighters from E451 encountered yellow/brown smoke that filled the entire first floor of the structure. Visibility was near zero with minimal heat conditions.” “The crew entered the foyer and conducted a right hand search for an entry into the basement. They were unsuccessful and changed directions. The officer from E451 heard L451 tell command they vented the basement windows. He called command and requested that the first floor windows be vented. Within minutes visibility improved and they could see across the kitchen area to the stairway which led to the basement.” “The crew from E451 walked over to the stairs and started to stretch the hose down the stairway into the basement which had a landing that was mid-way down the stairs. The officer put a firefighter on the landing which made a 180-degree turn to flake out the hoseline. The nozzle man made his way down the stairs and opened the door into the basement which was full of thick black smoke.”
With talking to Firefighter Jo Brinkley and reading the accounts above, let us take a look at what possibly happened with fire growth and flow path. As stated above smoke was from the floor to the ceiling on the 1st floor, and once the basement door was opened it was full of thick black smoke. Around the same time, according to the report, the C side windows were taken for the PPV fan operations. With the door to basement being open and C side windows taken this could have very well possibly created a Uni-Directional flow path. Let’s look at a side by side of A and C side.
This unidirectional flow is very dangerous for crews operating above the fire, and numerous Firefighters in other incidents have perished by being in this path. Firefighters need to be aware of these conditions and control the air intakes until the seat of the fire is being extinguished.
Now I would also like to share a part of our conservation about exterior fire streams and the surviving Firefighter’s condition. As I share this keep in mind I wasn’t there and can only go on the firsthand account that was shared with me during our conversation. I just thought it was this was interesting and worthy to be shared.
When the collapse happened it dumped the surviving into a different room than the victim. She described that she was instantly surrounded by flames as she shielded herself with whatever debris she could find. She took refuge against the block wall as she tried to protect herself while she yelled to try to find the victim. “I called for “MAYDAY” four times”, stated Firefighter Brinkley-Chaudoir.
According to the report “At the same time, the crew from E451 made their way back up the stairs from the basement to the front door. The entire foyer area was engulfed in flames at this time. Another crew was spraying water through the front door which allowed the crew from E451 to jump through the flames and out the front door. The injured fire fighter who fell into the basement felt the water and saw the fire darken down. She stood up and once again encountered extreme heat conditions which immediately melted her face piece. She turned away from the fire and pushed her way through debris created from the collapse and made it into the next room of the basement. She saw a window and could hear crews operating at the rear of the structure. She was able to make her way to the rear of the structure where the crews assisted her out through the windows.”
In light of recent testing and the constant discussion of exterior streams supposedly pushing fire and that if exterior streams are used we will steam victims to death. I thought who better to ask than someone who was actually in a basement that flashover and an the opposite end of an exterior fire stream that was applied. Firefighter Jo Brinkley-Chaudior was very kind to relive this incident and answer my questions.
1) In the report it states that theE451 crew lost water and had to make their way through a wall of flame and another crew outside was spraying water in the front door area. Do you feel that any fire was pushed on you?
Answer: ” No because once the water started coming down it made the flames and glow around me start to darken down and conditions approved slightly that I thought I could stand up to try and walk to another room and light. Although when I stood up it started to melt my mask.”
2) You received burns from this incident along with other serious injuries. Where any of your burns steam burns and did the temperature increase with the exterior hoseline application?
Answer: ” No I wasn’t steam burned from any water from the hoseline my burns happened when the flashover happen and it was my sweat inside my gear that flashed. And no the temperatures never increased because of the exterior hoseline water application.”
Since this incident was a basement fire. I am going to give you two good links of FREE online classes dealing with basement fires. Please review them with your crews and discuss the information above in this article.
(Click on photo for online class)
(Click on photo for online class)
The best way we can honor Lt. Arnie Wolff is to educate ourselves on these topics and share with all of our brothers and sisters.
A special thanks goes out to Firefighter Jo Brinkley for all the sharing of firsthand information she gave and to my good friend Christopher Huston for his help in delivering this message.
Captain John Shafer
Links and additional sources: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200626.