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A Rescue in Bethesda
Comments () | Published August 1, 2009

“Let’s go,” he said, and he and Klavon turned toward the door.

When suppressing fire inside a building, firefighters are in a race to prevent flashover, one of the most feared phenomena in their work. Flashover is the near-simultaneous ignition of all combustible material in an enclosed space. It happens when a thickening layer of hot smoke and gases released by the fire rises, spreads across the ceiling, and superheats a room. The released energy feeds on itself until it reaches an ignition point and erupts into a mass of flame that engulfs everything in the room.

The living-room ceiling, now layered with smoke and fueled by oxygen coming through the exploded windows, was approaching flashover. A warning sign came when tongues of fire flashed in the smoke, something firefighters call “angel fingers.”

If flashover occurred, Oglesby knew it would propel flames, heat, and smoke up the stairwell where the two firefighters were trying to save the children.

While Warfield and Klavon made their way upstairs, Oglesby pulled the hose line toward the living room, where the fire pushed out waves of scorching heat. He turned the nozzle, and air gushed out followed by a powerful cone of water. The hose pumped 250 gallons a minute into the blaze. The fire darkened as flames died and steam hissed. Smoke banked down like ground fog.

Everything in the living room was blistered and blackened. Metal picture frames were melted. But Oglesby had prevented a flashover.

When he stepped out of the bedroom holding Aiden, Warfield expected to see smoke choking the stairwell as it had been two minutes earlier. But Oglesby’s actions had cleared the smoke enough for him and Klavon to see the stairs. They edged down, holding the children over their shoulders, and met Jody Sealey and two other firefighters from Engine Company 750 of the National Naval Medical Center starting up the stairs with their own hose line. Outside, Trenton Massenberg, one of the Navy Med firefighters, and Robert Wilkes, driver of the Glen Echo pumper truck, had connected the fire hydrant to the pumpers to provide a continuous water supply.

“There’s one more kid up there!” Warfield shouted through his mask.

As they came out of the house, Warfield and Klavon flipped off their face masks and gave each boy two rescue breaths. They sensed no response; neither boy appeared to be breathing.

Paramedic Jason Buc was waiting in the front yard to administer emergency care. He met Warfield ten feet from the door. “Curtis, let me get him on my cot,” Buc said.

Warfield handed Aiden to him, and Buc could see Warfield had been injured.

“You okay, Curtis?” he asked.

“Go!” Warfield said as Buc turned with Aiden in his arms. Buc knew he had to get oxygen into the boy fast. He ran across the front yard and laid Aiden on a cot he’d set up just outside the fence.

Three fire trucks were now at the scene. Battalion chiefs Resnick and Gaegler were directing operations when Resnick saw Warfield and Klavon come out of the house carrying the two boys. Resnick could see that the boys were unconscious and knew that only one ambulance and one paramedic had arrived.

Even as a battalion chief, Resnick had maintained his paramedic certification. Every career firefighter in Montgomery County is trained in both fire suppression and emergency medicine, but paramedics undergo a year or more of additional medical training and testing that qualifies them to perform emergency measures such as administering EKGs and IVs and intubating patients.

“I’m going to patient care!” Resnick called out to Gaegler. Resnick ran across the front yard, took Bricen from Klavon, and caught up with Buc.

“Let’s put both kids on the same stretcher,” Resnick said.

They laid the two boys end to end on the stretcher and rolled it toward the ambulance. Both boys appeared to be in respiratory arrest. Resnick didn’t know if they were dead, but they looked it. He and Buc suctioned soot from the boys’ mouths as fast as they could, put oxygen masks over their faces, and began squeezing the oxygen bag every three seconds to force oxygen into their lungs to drive out carbon monoxide. The boys’ teeth were clenched tightly, probably from hydrogen-cyanide poisoning.

Warfield and Klavon turned to go back inside for Coleson, but after a few steps their legs buckled, their strength lost to the heat. They stripped off their protective gear down to their T-shirts, soaked with perspiration, and lay on the ground barely able to move, the heat still burning their skin.

From the time they’d entered the house, it had taken the two firefighters 2½ minutes to locate and rescue Aiden and Bricen.

Since moving into their Bethesda home in 2001, Michael and Ami Susan had grown to love the neighborhood. They welcomed new neighbors with homemade chocolate-chip cookies. Their friends knew Michael to be a bright, outgoing man.

Now he was across the street from his house; firefighters had asked him to go there to shield him from seeing his children as they were brought out of the house.

He sat on a stone wall in front of a neighbor’s home in bare feet and shorts, his face and clothing blackened, his bloody hands wrapped in gauze, looking lost and uncomprehending. He coughed and shivered, fearing that the children he and his wife had wanted so long, had loved so much, might be gone.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 08/01/2009 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles