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Firefighter rescued from burning basement in Berkeley County

September 18, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

PIKESIDE, W.Va. -- A firefighter who fell into a burning basement while battling a house fire Wednesday afternoon was rescued in a dramatic incident that rattled the nerves of local emergency officials.

Serious fires in Berkeley County are on the rise, and there are not enough firefighters to safely battle them, said Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Wednesday's fire was reported at 1:51 p.m. in a split-foyer home at 40 Jester Court off Idyllwood Drive, between Pikeside and Darkesville, W.Va.

Three part-time firefighters with Allen's office were the first to arrive at the scene and entered the home in an attempt to put out the blaze, Allen said.

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One of the firefighters was in a hallway when flames shot through the floor, and the firefighter and that section of the floor fell into the fire, Allen said.

The trapped firefighter began yelling "Mayday," a universal code for a firefighter in trouble, and he told the other firefighters, "I'm burning. I'm burning. The fire's burning me," Allen said.

One of the other firefighters reached down and pulled the man out of the basement, Allen said. The man who rescued his fellow firefighter hurt his back, Allen said.

A third firefighter burned his knees crawling along the floor over the intense fire as he helped the other firefighters get out, Allen said.

Firefighters arrived at the scene from departments including South Berkeley, Baker Heights, the Air National Guard and the Martinsburg Fire Department, officials said.

Allen declined Wednesday night to release the names of the injured firefighters. The three men were released from City Hospital.

The firefighter who fell into the flames suffered second-degree burns on his left hand and arm, Allen said. Second-degree burns are very painful, and the firefighter was prescribed narcotics, Allen said.

It will take time to determine if the man will need medical treatment for his burns, Allen said.

About 20 firefighters got the fire under control in about 40 minutes, Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Tim Sprouse said.

Firefighters and area fire officials were alarmed and tense over the incident.

"It puts you in overdrive," said South Berkeley firefighter Brian Golliday, who responded to the scene.

"It puts the whole county in overdrive," Sprouse said.

It was not known Wednesday afternoon what started the fire, and the state Fire Marshal's office was investigating, Sprouse said.

No one was in the house when the fire started. The house was in a wooded area at the end of a gravel road off a cul-de-sac.

Phillip Adams, who lives in the house with his wife and four children ranging in age from 4 to 18, said someone broke into the house recently, and one of his daughters was going to check on the house when she noticed the fire.

Adams said the Red Cross was helping his family with other living arrangements, although Adams said he was going to sleep at the property.

"I can't leave this. This is everything I own," Phillips said as charred belongings lay scattered in his yard.

Allen said he has been talking with county officials about his concerns over a growing number of serious structure fires in the county and the lack of enough firefighters to safely enter structures to attack the blazes. There is a mix of paid and volunteer firefighters in the county, but most are volunteer, fire officials said.

Allen said another dangerous fire occurred on Apple Harvest Drive not long ago when three firefighters entered a structure and a "flashover" occurred.

A flashover, the most dangerous type of fire, occurs when a room bursts into flames, according to www.workingfire.net.

The firefighters battling Wednesday's blaze had protective suits, helmets, gloves and hoods, but the protective ability of the equipment only goes so far in an intense fire, Allen said.

"It just shows how dangerous career firefighting is," Allen said.

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