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Episode 29: Interview with Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer

Situational Awareness MattersOn July 5, 2013, the Spokane Fire Department responded to a reported commercial building fire at the Mayfair Professional Building, located at 5901 North Mayfair. Within two minutes of the alarm, the first arriving company found light smoke coming from the area of the HVAC units in the side of the building. The structure was a Type 5 construction, two-story structure with a basement. The fire progressed quickly, nearly trapping crews on the first floor and in the basement.

Length: 60 Minutes
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Situational Awareness MattersThe 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.
Situational Awareness MattersSome takeaways from the interview include:

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

Video of helmet cam

Photos of incident progression

Mayfair Professional Buiilding Fire – Spokane


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Guest Contact Information
Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer
Spokane Fire Department


Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System


The mission of Situational Awareness Matters is simple: Help first responders see the bad things coming… in time to prevent bad outcomes.

Safety begins with SA! 

Share your comments on this article in the “Leave a Reply” box below. If you want to send me incident pictures, videos or have an idea you’d like me to research and write about, contact me. I really enjoy getting feedback and supportive messages from fellow first responders. It gives me the energy to work harder for you.



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