By Mick Mayers
I'm not one to tell war stories, but I have made a few rescues in my career. My first rescue, though, was pretty interesting.
We were called for a fire in a local hotel. The initial companies got on scene and found a working fire with one guest room well-involved. Fire was rolling out of the sliding glass door on the third-floor approach side balcony and igniting the fourth floor balcony.
We did not know it at the time, but the room was being used to store television sets during a renovation. The burning plastic TV cabinets were giving off thick black smoke that also spread through the open atrium.
All of the occupants were being evacuated, but the smoke was so pervasive that some were even having difficulty navigating to the exits. More engine companies were responding and crews went to work extinguishing the fire and directing the victims to the stairwells, where they could then descend them to safety.
My crew arrived and we reported to the command post. The incident commander ordered us to join two other search teams to search the highest floor in the huge building.The smoke, rising through the building, was especially thick there, and it was undetermined if everyone had gotten out of the building. There were several occupants unaccounted for, and they very well could be up there, trapped in the highest parts of the hotel where all the superheated, toxic gases collect in a fire.
My crew and I ascended the protected fire stairs and stopped at the floor below, quickly talking about the direction we would go in so our search was as efficient as possible. There would be absolutely no visibility; we would have to search this area using all our senses but sight, and it was a big area to search. All three crews got to the tenth floor landing and as the lead crew, one of us felt the door and noted it was just warm. We cautiously opened it, ready to slam it shut if greeted by fire. There was none, but the smoke was very tenacious and banked down to knee level. Donning our masks, we then entered the smoke and began our hunt, calling out as we went, in case someone could answer back and we could focus in on their location.
We went to the left, and the other two teams went in their pre-established directions. At each room we came to, we knocked, and hearing no answer, used the master keys we had been given to open the door. Once inside, we would hastily shut the door behind us. In each room the smoke was only minimal and our search was able to go quickly. Ducking into the rooms each time, one person would stay at the door and the other two would look under beds, in closets, and in the bathroom, before returning to the door and everybody exiting together.
Before long we came to a double door; this was actually a penthouse suite and belonged to the general manager of the hotel. Opening the door, we found a nicely furnished apartment and again, there was smoke, but not nearly as thick as in the hallway, and we shut the door behind us and split up to search.
As we called out, I heard a nervous bark coming from a remote bedroom. Surprised, I called out again, only to get another return bark. “Hey, guys!” I called out to the rest of the team. “I think I've got something!” I went toward the room and through the open door, crouched on the floor, was a scared dog looking right at me. Given that I was in full protective gear and breathing apparatus, one could only wonder what the poor thing was thinking. I put my gloved hand out to him and called to him and I'm guessing he was so afraid at that point, he didn't even react. I scooped him up into my arms.
He was a little white fluffy dog, a Spitz, I think. He had a collar on and was breathing rapidly, with some wheezing, sounding like he had gotten a little smoke inhalation. I keyed up my radio and reported that I had found the dog; the incident commander radioed back that this was indeed the general manager's pup. I reassured them that he was OK for now and we would be exiting the building with him. I let them know that I would meet the manager at the command post.
My crew met up at the door and I carried my precious cargo, who was actually doing pretty well, considering. We went down the stairs and exited, where I happened to come out the door to the cheers of the staff and a photographer from the local newspaper. I turned the dog over to the grateful family of the manager, especially the young son, whose puppy it was. The fire was actually held to the room of origin, but the smoke damage throughout the building was extensive. The resulting improvements in the building, however, eliminated the atrium to prevent smoke from ever doing that again. Nobody was hurt and the incident ended well, but I won't forget my first rescue.