What can we deduct?

Most of you have probably heard about the house fire that occurred in Dinwiddie, where an elderly couple became two of the latest, possible fire fatalities. This fire is under investigation, so my comments will be based upon past experience and speculation, but we may be able to deduct some worthwhile learning points, simply from what we do know. Here is what we do know:

  • The fire was reported around noon
  • Firefighters arrived to find heavy fire showing
  • There was mention of a space heater
  • Firefighters were advised that there were possibly people inside the home
  • An elderly couple lost their lives
  • Rural water supply had to be initiated

Based upon these facts, let’s draw some possible conclusions. I do not know the physical health of either of the two victims, except for the fact that they were elderly. If we assume that both people were ambulatory, prior to the fire, then something incapacitated them. Investigators will have to rule out foul play. The medical examiner will determine the cause of death for both victims. If foul play is ruled out, then what prevented the couple from escaping? It could have been that there were no working smoke alarms, but that will be determined in the investigation. No smoke alarms makes building occupants have to find the fire before being overcome by the smoke. Smoke alarms could have been in place, but the couple could have been intimately involved with the fire, in other words, they could have been in the same room where the fire started.

Investigators will determine if this fire burned for a period of time before the fire was reported. For fire to be showing on arrival, either the fire had self-vented, or someone opened a door while the fire was burning. Whatever the case, the fire had flashed before firefighters arrived, making conditions inside the house untenable. The quicker 9-1-1 is notified, the quicker fire units will be dispatched, and the quicker that water will reach the base of the fire.

Initial reports mentioned a space heater in the home. When temperatures drop, space heaters account for a number of fires. Investigators will have to determine, based on determining point of origin, if this space heater caused this fire. If you use space heaters, remember that everything on the space heater must be intact and working properly. Space heaters and combustibles must be at least three feet from one another.

A fire in the middle of the day that takes two lives is a bit of a mystery. Most people die in fires at night, while sleeping. We need to stay tuned to what investigators will learn and publish about this fire. I mentioned the fact that rural water supply had to be initiated. When a domestic water supply does not exist in an area, there are no pressurized hydrants in the area. Firefighters established a water supply from a dry hydrant that most likely drew from a pond or lake. Water then had to be shuttled via tanker from the draft site to the burning house.

Portable ponds were probably set up at the address of the fire. The volume of fire and the maximum gallons per minute achieved in the shuttle had an effect on the firefighter’s ability to get inside quickly versus having to start defensive and then go interior. There are many areas in Chesterfield County where rural water supply will be the only means of getting adequate water to the fire. If you live in an area like this, early notification of occupants should translate to earlier notification of firefighters, which is vital to the best possible outcome. 

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