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Our man in Spain, George Potter, writes in about a tragic incident overseas:

As you may have heard, the past weekend a residential fire in Ecija, a town near Seville in Southwest Spain took the lives of 6 members of a family. The fire apparently was caused by a typical electric heater usually placed under the dining table, which may well have caused a smoldering, incomplete combustion until igniting surrounding furnishings. At this time it is unknown at exactly what time the fire started, but the first call was received in the regional emergency dispatch center at approximately 07:30 hrs.

Initial response from the provincial fire service station in the town was a Light Urban Pumper with a crew of 3 and the shift leader arriving within five minutes at the two-story brick and cement row house. A 2,500-gallon tanker responded soon afterwards with one more firefighter. Entry into the building was hindered by steel "burglar bars" mounted at all windows and a semi security door as principal entry. Initial attack was made with a 1-inch hose from the first pumper.

Outraged neighbors claimed that the fire department's arrival was more than one half hour after being called, insufficient manning on the scene, firefighters donning their protective gear after arrival, the firefight made from the street and not from the interior and other similar complaints provoked these neighbors to physically attack the tanker and the command car, causing damage to both vehicles and minor injuries to two firefighters. The Andalucia regional government has initiated an in-depth investigation into the incident.

Whether the responding firefighters had adequate practical training in interior firefighting is unknown at this time, although knowing this and similar provincial fire services in this country, this could well be the case.

The Seville provincial fire service protocol for low height residential fires calls or one small engine with a crew of three and a commander (in Spain either corporals or seargents). Typical shift manning in similar departments is between five and seven, including the commander. Additional resources can by mobilized but could be as much as an hour distant. This service is fortunate iin having this manpower; some municipalities in Spain with upwards of 50,000 or more population are "protected" by one or two on-duty firefighters with support personnel on-call.

Donning personal protective gear after arrival is a questionable practice. I don't know this particular department's SOP on turnout gear but I will find out more.

Exterior fire attack of an interior fire is not recommended when life hazards exist, and the firefighters on the scene had been informed that the family was inside. The investigation will shed light on the commander's tactical decisions.

This incident brings to light a number of vital questions: reduced manning, response protocols, training, command, etc. I know the differences between Spanish and USA procedures are quite broad, but if this fire can contribute to improving operations in this type of situation, those lives may not have gone in vain.

For those who read Spanish, George offers this Google search for more info. And if you have any questions you'd like to pose regarding this incident or the differences between European and U.S. firefighting, submit 'em on this blog post and I'm sure George would be happy to answer.

posted by Peter Prochilo
4/23/2008 11:10:00 AM

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Blogger Mike said...

Nice article - I'm a firefighter based in the northeast of Spain, with strong ties to firefighting in the US and UK. I feel shocked and saddened at the response from people after the Ecija fire. After six people die in a fire, anyone will say that the firefighters were late, even if it took them less than five minutes to reach the scene - but that is no excuse to stone a truck and injure the firefighters.

Regarding the SOP on gear, all FDs in Spain operate under more or less the same guidelines - you either don the gear before getting in the truck, or (less preferably) while en-route. The station responding to this incident was less than five minutes away, so it's conceivable that they had some remaining items to secure by the time they arrived.

On the tactics used - to start with, the building was a two-floor brick construction, with a single door and no balconies or overhangs. The ground floor was fully involved by the time the first crew arrived, and it's likely smoke had reached the first floor at levels that made unprotected survival unlikely. As with any fire, an initial assessment and 360-degree view must be done, after which an attack strategy is determined taking into account the equipment and personnel available. One firefighter went into the house, but came out with his gloves charred and first-degree burns to his hands, the heat inside was tremendous.

Contrary to the US, Spain has almost zero wood construction, most houses are built with brick & mortar, and many feature burglar-prevention measures on doors and windows, making entry much more difficult. Ventilation on such structures is a lot more complex and time-consuming, when you combine the materials used and the access difficulty, so an inside attack is -always- done with a water line present, and only progresses as fire is extinguished. Any civilians present are evacuated through windows or balconies on higher floors.

If any reader comes by Barcelona and wants to grab a coffee and talk tactics and operations, he will be more than welcome!

Sat Apr 26, 05:36:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Steve said...

It's always the case... the 'responsible persons' who decided that such a minimal response by firefighters was sufficient for their town will be let off the hook while the people who care enough to work despite the lack of support, under those conditions, will be assaulted and criticized. Keep the faith, brothers.

Sun Apr 27, 09:50:00 AM EDT  
Blogger ashley said...

I work for a small town in the U.S. and we have been told NEVER to get dressed going down the road, I don't think that with a seat belt on that anyone could properly get dressed in todays small apparatus cabs. So I have gotten dressed after getting on scene. Why? because if my truck wrecks no matter if it is my drivers fault or not I WILL HAVE MY SEATBELT ON. I'm not going to hazard a guess at the tactics being used by this small response, I'm assuming they did the best they had with the equipment and manpower available, if not shame on them. I am just glad no firefighters were seriously injured in this event, it sounds like any interior efforts would have been a recovery operation at best and possibly a LODD at worst

Mon Apr 28, 10:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Mike said...

ashley: you're lucky to have rigs with seatbelts, sadly over here many don't have them. I agree with your stance on this (I said 'less preferably'), but I also think in these kind of high emotional stress situations, it doesn't look good if you start getting dressed while people scream at you to get in there (even if it's the correct SOP).

Tue Apr 29, 08:43:00 AM EDT  
Blogger George said...


I want to get in touch with you. To make a secure contact, call ASELF, I'm one the Board of Governors.


Wed Apr 30, 07:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Mike said...


Left a message on ASELF's answering machine with my cell number, if you don't get it please email me if that's OK.



Thu May 01, 10:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Mike said...

Hi again George,

It may actually be easier through here - all you have to do is not approve this comment. I'm not sure Blogger shows you my email address, so disregard the previous comment on that ground. You can reach me at [email protected] or through the cell I left in the answering machine message.



Thu May 01, 02:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nelson Ojeda said...

Tactics and SOP's from Spain are very similar that the ones used in Chile. You will see a bunch of guys donning their bunker gear while in route to the call, no wearing seat belts and making the response very unsafe. Also this type of construction is very similar.

What I don't understand is the use of 1 inch hoseline. We also used those (when working on a car or dump fire) but once you get in, on a fully envolved structure the first thing that the Chilean Fire Service usually does is the placement of a 2 inch (app) hoseline and trying to advance inside the building. They also practice horizontal ventilation while working on this kind of buildings (mostly concrete).If you wear a complete PPE you can easily knock down the fire quickly if properly methods are in place using an "agresive offensive attack". If the first crew arrived and no "survavility profile" was found at the time a 360 was done, again, considering the type of construction the tactic would most likely use to just prevent the fire to spread to the adjacent buildings (exposures) but with good GPM/LPM to make it efficient.

I remember in Chile this kind of situations when you work "afraid" of being hitted or even shot. There are pretty bad neighbords where you work under to much pressure trying to make the scene safe and get the job done.

Now that Im based in the US, for me working inside structures where these are mostly made of wood, is a very challenge action. Evey time we go to a call we have the pressure to knock down the fire quickly (agressively) using proper safety methods. At least over here mostly of the time the ventilation procedure will be done after the initial attack has done something inside and you don't see guys on the roof very often.

Now that I have learned more tactics in different types of buildings I would decide to do an offensive attack (if the conditions are in favor to do so) or just protect the exposure but with a good source of water and delivering a good amount of GPMs or Litros por minuto, not a 1 inch line.


Wed Sep 24, 12:20:00 AM EDT  

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