That “Oh Sh*t” moment…..

I usually do not post or write thus far about any experiences I have had at work. I like to write more about the volunteer side of the fire service and brotherhood, But  yesterday….. yesterday I’m going to write about. I am going to write about this because it is a story that needs to be told, and everyone needs to read and think about when it comes to a “routine” call. As I’ve noted in past posts, I am a volunteer and a Career fire fighter. I work on the Engine crew at a station that houses an Engine (Crew of 3) a squad ( Crew of 2) and Battalion Chief. Yesterday we were dispatched to a reported fire alarm with an activated smoke detector coming from the Boiler Room. We respond to several of these a day…. as do most of you, and everyone in the city does. Upon arrival, we found nothing showing and the BC assumed command as we all made a 360 looking for anything out of the ordinary. With no Knox box, we had a key holder on the way with a short ETA. The only thing notable we found was the sound of what we suspected was a compressor of some sort, no smoke or hard rattles that would give away a problem with the compressor…. just that it was running. We waited for the key holder to arrive and let us in the building so we could investigate further. Alarm panel confirmed boiler room smoke detector, so we along with the key holder proceeded that way. When we made our way downstairs and opened the door to the basement boiler room, we all noted the odor of something, something mechanical or to that effect. We looked in to see a very slight haze at the ceiling level, nothing we’ve never seen before…. it was almost not even there. You could just see it in the light, and could see through it straight to the back wall. Our suspicion was that this was like every call we had seen like this, either a light ballast or maybe the pump, we could  now hear again, was overheated. When we proceeded down the  stair case to see what was going on, The squad Captain went first followed by my captain, me and the squads operator with the key holder close behind. As soon as the first captain made it down, he immediately turned around with a look on his face like he had just seen a ghost, and said ” We gotta get out of here”. Right as he had said that, his knees started buckling under him and he started to go down. My Captain reached down and grabbed him and looked back at the rest of us and told us to get out and get O2. Backing out, we saw that the squad captain was getting out with the help of the engine captain so the squad operator zipped out to get the supplies. The key holder didn’t seem to understand what was going on, so on my way out I grabbed his shoulder and pointed him to the door and said “Out… Now!” As I gently urged the man to the outside door, I also broke into a direct run to the engine passing the BC on my way. He was asking “whats going on?!?” as I ran by and yelled back “man down inside”. When I caught up to the operator getting supplies, I saw he had the med bag and O2 as instructed, so I went behind him and grabbed the Defribulator…. just in case. By the time we had got back to the door, Both captains were making their way down the hall and out the door. The BC was advising everyone assigned to the alarm what was going on, that this was now a Haz-Mat scene and we went to work on the Captain. He never lost conciousness, but In a short few second of being in that room, he had lost some motor function. After getting some O2 and getting outside, he was already getting better. We assisted EMS with packing him up and sent him to the hospital for observation.Working the scene now as a Haz-Mat, we were able to get crews in, shut down the system and begin to ventilate the room. The call is still technically “under investigation” but we learned that a malfunction in the AC system caused a freon leak in the poorly ventilated room, displacing all the air.

It was a simple call. “Routine” as some would call it. But in a matter of 5-8 seconds, we went from a routine lunch interruption to a “man down” situation. I am sure that everyone has been to these calls…. fire alarm…. light haze…. lets figure out whats wrong real quick and get back to the house type of call that happens every day, everywhere. But the stars and planets lined up just right to turn the routine into something we’ve never seen before, and it happened in the blink of an eye. Simply put, try to be suspicious of everything brothers and sisters. There is no such thing as routine in this job, and I don’t want you to see the same look in your brothers eyes when you realize you are in a place you don’t need to be, and have that sudden “Oh Sh*t” moment. Stay safe, but be aggressive….


-Matthew Ritter (Captain Chaos)

4 responses to “That “Oh Sh*t” moment…..”

  1. Scott Repke says :

    You should fill out a National Fire Fighter Near Miss report on that one so more people can learn from your experience.


    • captainchaos01 says :

      Yes, I am going to mention that to my captain. I thought about it as I was writing the article. Thanks for reading brother!


  2. Dennis Chaney says :

    I was in a similar situation last year. We were dispatched to a fire alarm at a local business that manufacturered prescription drugs that was a usual customer. We were in no hurry going down the road and just BSing with each other thinking we would be cancelled before we got to scene so I didn’t even have my pack on. As we got closer to the scene dispatch told us that the fire alarm was now a man down due to a chemical explosion. We QUICKLY got our PPE on. When we did get to scene I went in on full air and found my Gas detector alarm going nuts when I entered the room. Complacency almost got us in trouble on this one, but luckily everyone went home safe including the victim.


    • captainchaos01 says :

      Its so very tough to go on calls to the same place over and over, for several years, and not get complacent. When the same person has called 911 once a week for the past two years complaining of chest pain. Its surprising when you get there, by yourself at 4 in the morning and no one else on the way except an ambulance responding with an extended ETA… and that persons really dying this time! (true story, my very first CPR) It happens…. a loosen of your guard on an alarm….. Everyone rolling over in the bed when that frequent flyer calls wolf again…. as soon as you least expect it, it will jump up and bite you with your pants on the ground. Good story, and thanks for sharing! It’s always good to share like this because it just further reminds us to keep that guard up, so this job don’t slip the jab and stuns us for the big knockout punch! Stay safe brother!


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