Fire Spotlight continually highlights firefighter stories. In this video, we capture firefighter and instructor Shaun McAteer from the Tuscaloosa Fire Department, discussing his own firefighter mistakes in this video. He had to use his fire training and keep calm during a high-stress situation when everything seemed to go wrong. McAteer got tangled in his hoses, lost his oxygen and knocked his lieutenant down a flight of stairs. To make matters even worse, it was his first time on a new department as a rookie. Here is a transcript of Shaun’s experience:
Hey, I’m Shaun McAteer. I work here at Central Alabama Training Solutions. I am one of the instructors. We learn more from our mistakes than we ever do from our successes. I am going to share some of my mistakes.
I used to work at a small department for about a year and a half, then I got moved to a bigger department where I’ve been a career firefighter for 12 years now. When we made it to our first working fire, I wanted to make a good show as the rookie. I had a lieutenant who was probably wondering if I was worth my salt. I wanted to make him proud. When we pulled up, there was nothing but a little hole of fire that had broken out of the roof. We walked into the house. We go up to the stairway and the whole attic is on fire.
I open up the hose and start whipping the nozzle around. I think I’m doing some good, and I am blacking it out. Then the steam hits me, and I shut the nozzle off for just a second. That’s what I was taught to do in recruit school to let it convert. Well, as I’m eating steam, I am thinking “Man, this is really, really fun and hot.”
I hear air blowing, and I’m thinking my senior firefighter is somehow having an SCBA malfunction. When I take one good breath of that converted atmosphere, I realized very quickly that it was me. So, as I do as a good firefighter does, I try not to freak out and hold my breath. I am trying to trace my line down and plug in my second stage regulator when I realize it is wrapped back around me and I cannot get it. My eyes were probably this big.
I don’t care how tough you are, after one good breath of that converted atmosphere, you don’t want any more. I know there’s good air behind me, but unfortunately, also behind me is my Lieutenant, who was standing in the stairway.
As I turned around to get lower to find some air and figure out my problem, I center him right in the chest, and we go all the way down the stairs. I’m thinking, “Wow, this is going really great.” To make things worse, my lieutenant is not only falling down the stairs, but he falls on a bicycle that is located at the bottom of the steps.
We eventually made it back up the stair, and I figure out my problem. My senior firefighter gave me the nozzle. We opened it up and lo and behold, I have just a little bit of a stream coming out. The hose is hard, and it has pressure, so I’m thinking, “Man, this thing is kinked up or we got a pump problem.”
Long story short, it was neither one. The hose delaminated. We did not know this at the time, but it delaminated right there at the nozzle. It was causing pressure between both lines and was pinching down on it. We were not getting a good stream at all and wound up burning the roof off.
So that was my first good-working fire at the department I work at now. Looking back on it, I realize what I did. We had some very old packs, and I did not know to check a few things on that second stage regulator every morning. I thought I knew how to check my pack off. Obviously, I didn’t know how to do it the proper way, and I made a mistake. At the most improper time, it showed itself. That’s usually the way it goes, Murphy’s Law.
On top of that, the way we store our hose has changed over the years. We would not store it automatically like we would today. We would wash it and put it on these long drying racks, where it would stay under tension. Because of that, the couplings would bend down on the ends. We didn’t roll them back up or anything like that. Anytime we would have issues, it was always at those points, so we stopped doing that. Hopefully, this helps you out a little bit. Luckily, after that wonderful learning experience, I have changed for the better.
Learn from your mistakes and communicate them because if you just hold on to them for your ego, or you’re afraid of what people may think, you will make mistakes. We’re all in the same boat, we’re going to mess up. If I could share that with other people, maybe you won’t make the same mistake and you can go home safe. Thank you.