Posted 1:50 p.m. Fire Chief Gregory Dean met with members of the media today to answer tough questions about how the department handled the tragic fire in Fremont yesterday. Many neighbors have criticized the department (see our earlier story and comments below it) for taking too long to put water on the fire and make an attempt to save the people trapped inside.
“Our hearts go out to the ones who lost their loved ones,” he said. “I think all of us spent the night looking and reading comments and trying to see what went on.” Dean defended how firefighters reacted at the scene. “Firefighters went out yesterday and did their jobs,” he said. “(They’re) beating themselves up.”
Many questions focused on Ballard-based Engine 18, which suffered a mechanical problem switching from “drive mode to pump mode,” which left the first attacking firefighters without water (see this photo). “Things can happen at the most uncommon times,” he said. “And making sure you send additional units, so if you have a mechanical problem you can deal with it. ” Dean said the second unit, Engine 8, arrived two minutes after Engine 18, and was the first to put water on the fire. Several other engines followed a minute later, including Engine 20, which was briefly delayed on the Fremont Bridge after dropping one of its hoses. (Earlier Dean said Engine 20 was the second to arrive, but a review of radio records discovered it was Engine 8).
Firefighters at Station 10, where Chief Dean held his press conference, demonstrated how to switch an engine from drive to pump mode. This is the control that failed on Engine 18.
Reporters pressed Dean on whether firefighters should have entered the burning building sooner. “They saw heavy black smoke and flames coming from the unit upon arrival,” he said, explaining that such conditions rarely sustain life. “When firefighters enter a structure, they have to have water with them. Having flames and fire on the first floor, they cannot proceed to the second floor, until they put that fire out. Because if they don’t put that fire out, when you get upstairs, you’ll have fire follow behind you, and burn you and your hose and close off your escape route.”
Dean said the department is pulling the mechanical records of Engine 18, and is conducting a full investigation. After the press conference, Chief Dean met with the victims’ family and members of the Tigray Community Association.