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Episode 237 | Brian Schaeffer Interview


This episode is a flashback episode where Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer shared his near-miss story at a commercial building fire in Spokane, Washington.

Length: 56 minutes


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The first arriving crews attempted to knock down the fire from the exterior but were not success. Subsequently, companies went to the basement, expecting to find fire in the basement. The conditions were warm with very little smoke.

The basement design was complex. The BC had the lines charged and started the search for victims and the fire. The crews were cutting holes in the walls and ceilings looking for the source of the fire.

Chief Schaeffer arrived and noticed the conditions were getting worse. An order was giving to cut access holes from the exterior.

While the BC in the basement was reporting relatively clear conditions there was heavy smoke billowing out of a basement opening viewable from the exterior.

Chief Schaeffer became Division 1 (on the first floor). He reported light smoke on the first floor. Companies were doing primary and secondary search on the first floor and look for extension from the basement.

Soon, the conditions started changing quickly. Division 1 reported this to the basement Division. The first-floor crews were on their knees. Basement reported no smoke and cold conditions. Exterior reported a dramatic change in conditions.

The crew on the first floor was in complete darkness. The first-floor crew exited. However, the crews were still in basement. The conditions continued to change rapidly. An evacuation tone was ordered and Division 1 crews went to the basement, located and assisted the basement crews to safety.

Some takeaways from the interview include:

  1. You’ll learn how rapidly changing fire conditions can unexpectedly over run the crews.
  2. You’ll learn what can happen when the fire does not behave as expected (i.e., when the puzzle pieces don’t fit).
  3. You’ll learn how you can become normalized to your environment and may not see the severity of the conditions.
  4. You’ll learn how volumes of radio traffic on a single tactical channel can impact scene safety if at-risk crews cannot communicate via radio.
  5. You’ll learn how time distortion impacted the perception of speed at this incident.


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Intro music

Safety Dance (1982)
Men Without Hats
GMC – Virgin Records
Licensed by BMI Music

Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System


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