How do Firefighters Tackle Really Bad Fires?

When the fire alarm goes off, it sets in motion well-rehearsed procedures designed to prevent loss of life and property. But how do companies handle major conflagrations such as the fire at the Langendoerfer home that are beyond the capacity of one company to control?

Sunday’s fire was a textbook illustration of mutual aid and coordinated response.

“All incidents start and end local,” said Jon Barbagallo, public information officer for the Norfolk Volunteer Fire Department. “The first officer on the scene makes the determination based on necessity. Sunday morning’s fire started with the Norfolk fire department and ambulance, but active structure fires automatically cue Litchfield Dispatch to send mutual aid.” 

“Sunday’s fire was an immediate second alarm,” Barbagallo said. “It wasn’t necessarily equipment that was needed—what we requested was a manpower strike team. We needed interior firefighters for crew relief, so they brought in Thomaston, Watertown, Harwinton and Woodbury. It was the biggest response we have had since last November’s gas spill.”

The strike team gathered at the Drakeville Fire House in Torrington and responded to Norfolk from there. Barbagallo said there were probably 50 active firefighters on the scene Sunday night.

The regional fire departments have developed plans for mutual aid and Litchfield Dispatch knows which resources to dispatch and in which order. Practices are held throughout the year to give firefighters experience in responding to a scene. 

County coordinators add to the organization of services. “County coordinators assist the incident commander with shortfalls,” said Barbagallo. “They collect ID tags, help with the staging area, keeping track of what equipment is where, who can come to the scene and who will back up other companies by manning their firehouses. Coordinators free the incident commander up when you have a flood of people coming in.”

The county coordinators and incident commander use special command boards that were purchased through regional funds and that are scattered around the county—Norfolk has one in its firehouse.

The firefighters were called to Langendoerfer residence at 3:48 a.m. with many leaving the scene by mid-morning. But the work was not yet over. All the equipment had to be cleaned, dried and returned to the fire trucks in readiness for another call.

“That wasn’t complete until Monday night,” Barbagallo said. “That’s the advantage of having multiple trucks—for a day our backup truck was the lead truck so there was no reduction in service.”

Norfolk does not own a ladder truck, the most expensive piece of equipment, but Barbagallo said there are four in neighboring towns that can come to a scene. 

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