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Thread: Apparant Flashover at Controlled Burning Traps, Kills Delaware Asst. Chief

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    Apparant Flashover at Controlled Burning Traps, Kills Delaware Asst. Chief

    Apparant Flashover at Controlled Burning Traps, Kills Delaware Asst. Chief

    Firehouse.Com Senior Editor

    A Greenwood, Del. Assistant Chief was killed Sunday when a controlled burn of a house used for training earlier went tragically wrong, trapping him in an attic which was quickly engulfed in flames, officials said.

    Arnold Blankenship, III, the department's 2nd Assistant Chief, was setting fire to the attic area of a two-and-a-half story wood frame dwelling when an apparent flashover occurred, according to Jim Cubbage, Asst. State Fire Marshal.

    Sources told Firehouse.Com News that a house burning exercise had concluded and Blankenship was setting a 'contolled fire' in the attic as they attempted to burn the remainder of the house. The fire advanced quicker than expected, trapping him.

    The source said a full investigation is underway and it was not yet determined whether Blankenship was using his breathing apparatus at the time of the apparant flashover.

    The death is the first fatality to a Delaware firefighter due to burns or injury at a fire scene in at least 20 years and only the fourth line of duty death in the state in that same time period.

    Blankenship, 27, became trapped in the attic and members of his department were pushed back by the intense heat and flames when attempting to rescue him, Cubbage said.

    The six-year-veteran is survived by his wife, Dawn, and one-year-old son Zachary.

    No other injuries were immediately reported, officials said.

    The incident happened at about 9:41 a.m. and the fire was brought under control in less than a hour by fire departments from throughout Sussex and Kent counties which responded to assist Greenwood.

    Blankenship's body was taken to an area hospital where an autopsy will be performed to determine the exact cause of death.

    A joint investigation is underway involved the Delaware Fire Marshal's office and the Delaware State Police.

    The Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association Critical Incident Stress Management Team, together with its Chaplain's Corps, is supporting and counseling firefighters from Greenwood and neighboring companies, a statement said.

    "Delaware's fire service has an outstanding safety record, but this training accident reminds us all that firefighting is a dangerous business for the thousands of firefighters throughout our state who willingly place themselves in harms way to train and save the lives of others," Association President Steve Austin said in a statement. "As we mourn the passing of Second Assistant Chief Blankenship we should take comfort in his selfless commitment to serve the residents of his community in keeping with the proud tradition of the fire service in Delaware."

    According to the United States Fire Administration and Firehouse.Com research, Blankenship is the first line of duty death in Delaware in over two years.

    On Jan. 6, 1998, Prince A. Mousley, Jr., a career firefighter with the Wilmington Fire Department suffered a fatal heart attack while engaging in fire attack operations at the scene of a residential structure fire.

    The last volunteer firefighter to die in the line of duty was on June 16, 1997 when William Jack Northam, 55, of the Laurel Fire Department suffered a heart attack while performing duties after a vehicle accident.

    Almost all fire departments in Delaware are volunteer, with the exception of Wilmington and military agencies.

    In 1990, career firefighter James Goode, Jr. of the Wilmington Fire Department suffered a heart attack after returning from a fire scene.

    In 1982, volunteer firefighter H. Thomas Tucker of the Citizen's Hose Company No. 1 in Smyrna died from injuries after falling out of the jump seat of the engine he was riding on.

    Blankenship's death will be the first in the state that is the direct result of fireground operations (burns or injury) in the last 20 years, during which the most complete information is available. Officials said that Blakenship was overcome by intense flames in the flashover.

    A full Fire Department funeral will commence at 1:00 PM, Thursday May 4, 2000 at the Fire Station located on US Route13 in Greenwood.

    All Fire Departments are invited and urged to attend. The Fire Departments are requested to provide one piece of apparatus due to space. The Fire Service is requested to stage at Greenwood Fire Station no later than 12:00 noon.

    For planning purposes and additional information contact the Fire Company at 302-349-4529 between 0700_2200 hours with number of personnel and type of apparatus that will attend. Additional information can also be obtained via FAX at 302-542-9855.

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    Blankenship, III, Arnold

    Age: 27
    Rank: Second Assistant Chief (includes drowning)
    Status: Volunteer
    Incident Date: 04/30/2000
    Incident Time: 09:41
    Death Date: 04/30/2000

    Cause of Death: Exposure
    Nature of Death: Asphyxiation
    Emergency Duty: No
    Duty Type: Training
    Activity Type: Other
    Fixed Prop. Use: Residential

    Fire Dept. Info:
    Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company #1, Inc.
    P.O. Box 1
    Greenwood, Delaware 19950
    Chief: Thomas E. Jones

    Final Summary:
    Assistant Chief Blankenship and other members of his department were participating in a training/demolition burn of a two-and one-half story wood frame dwelling. According to the fire chief, the plan for the day was to do small, one room burns to evaluate a saw, and then to completely burn the house. After a series of small fires were extinguished on the first floor of the house, preparations were made for the demolition burn. The plan for the final fire was to ignite the attic, then ignite the first floor, evacuate the house, and allow it to burn completely. Water curtain nozzles were set up on the exterior of the house to protect trees that were in the proximity of the house. Assistant Chief Blankenship went into the attic of the house and used a small garden-type sprayer to distribute diesel fuel in the attic. As fires were ignited inside an attic room, Assistant Chief Blankenship used the sprayer to "accelerate" the fire. With the exception of Assistant Chief Blankenship, all firefighters had left the attic space and were proceeding to the first floor of the structure. A firefighter waiting at the base of the attic stairs for Assistant Chief Blankenship noted fire and smoke coming from the attic. When firefighters reached the exterior of the structure, they notified the fire chief that Assistant Chief Blankenship was missing and possibly trapped. As some firefighters attempted to suppress the fire, other firefighters used a ground ladder to access the second floor of the house in an attempt to rescue Assistant Chief Blankenship. After several attempts, firefighters followed the sound of an activated PASS device and were able to reach Assistant Chief Blankenship. They were unable to remove him as portions of the collapsed roof covered him. Mutual aid firefighters arrived and were able to locate and remove Assistant Chief Blankenship about an hour after the time he was reported missing. He was obviously deceased. The cause of death was later listed as asphyxiation and burns. A Major Incident Response Team from the State Fire Marshal

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    A Small Town Says Farewell to One of its Own

    A Small Town Says Farewell to One of its Own

    Firehouse.Com Columnist

    GREENWOOD, Del. (May 4) -- On a beautiful spring afternoon, the town of Greenwood, Delaware gathered to bid a somber farewell to one of their own. Just this past Sunday, tragedy struck that small community in the southern part of the state. Second Assistant Chief Arnold Blankenship, III died during a fire department live fire operation.

    As my traveling companion, Dr. Bob Fleming, the Executive Director of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and I traveled through the Maryland country side, we paused to ponder the impact of this event on the fabric of a small rural farming town. We did not have long to wonder. As we entered the community we noticed an almost total absence of people on the streets. The town was still and quiet. Every flag we saw was flying at half-staff.

    Our questions were soon answered when we arrived at the fire station of the Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company #1. Fire, EMS, and police vehicles stretched up and down the normally busy U.S. Route 13. After being ushered into a parking area carved out of a nearby farm field, we left our car and crossed over to join the throngs of mourners ringing the sturdy fire station that was build straddling the area between the north and southbound lanes.

    We noted fire apparatus of many hues and colors. Fire and EMS personnel from throughout Delaware were joined by their brothers and sisters from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. I even spoke with Deputy Chief John McNamara who had traveled from Worcester, Massachusetts, with his wife to bring a message of support from a city that has itself know recent great tragedy.

    Chief Blankenship's services were held at the local fire station, in order that there would be enough room for all who wished to attend. A uniformed honor guard of fire company members stood at parade rest, guarding their departed leader.

    A wide array of photographs had been placed on display near the casket. They portrayed to us, who never had the privilege of knowing him, a loving husband, father, son, and brother. They also showed us a proud member of the Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company.

    Sadly, we spoke of the fact that the Blankenship family had gathered at the very same fire station, one day before the chief's death, to celebrate the first birthday of the Chief's son, Zach. This though kept running through out thoughts, as we sat in the bay area of the station, watching the long lines of blue clad brothers and sisters quietly move in to take their place among the throng who had gathered to pay their respects.

    The beauty of the day stood in stark contrast to the tragedy of the occasion. The nearly cloudless sky served as the canopy for all of us who had gathered in this quiet, rural community. As we sat waiting for the service to begin, a steady breeze blew though the station, ruffling the flags and banners of the honor guard.

    The State of Delaware had truly come together to pay tribute to a fallen hero. The dignitaries included United States Senator Joseph Biden, and Governor Thomas Carper, Lt. Governor Ruth Minner, and Attorney General Jane Brady.

    At 1330 hr. the service began with a short multi-media slide video presentation that portrayed the life of Chief Blankenship. As the images came onto the screen, we were privileged to share a unique insight into the life of a young man who obviously loved his young son, his wife, his friends and his family.

    Senator Biden then came forward and shared a message of personal condolences with the family from President and Mrs. Clinton. It should be noted that Senator Biden had delivered a moving tribute to Chief Blankenship at the annual Fire Service Caucus Dinner in Washington, DC, on the evening just prior to the funeral. He had spoken of the dedicated service of fine people like Chief Blankenship, who stepped forward to protect and defend their communities out of a sense of duty and tradition. Senator Biden then presented an American Flag to the family that had been flown over the United States Capitol.

    After Senator Biden completed his sad presentation, Reverend David Paul gave the opening prayer. He delivered a message of hope and faith in the midst of a tragedy, at a time when all we have is faith and hope for the future.

    Following the prayer, Greenwood Fire Company President Clayton Yocum moved to the fore. He spoke in glowing terms of a young man who stepped forward six years ago to serve his community. He spoke of how Chief Blankenship was the latest generation of his family to serve the Greenwood community in their fire company. He spoke of the Chief's drive for knowledge and his zeal to serve the citizens of his community.

    He spoke of Chief Blankenship's ability to bring the many parts of the fire company together. President Yocum spoke of the Chief's leadership ability and his tremendous communication's skills. He gave us all a vivid picture of a man who possessed a unique blend of charisma and compassion: a man who would truly be missed.

    Fire Chief Thomas Jones then stepped forward to speak of his friend and colleague. "Arnie was a real go-getter, " Chief Jones said. "He loved to take on new challenges, and solve problems." Chief Jones also spoke glowingly of Chief Blankenship's ability to work as a mentor for the new members. He spoke of how his friend described his reasons for joining the fire company. "He once told me that it was in his heart to help others," Chief Jones noted.

    Next came Vice President Finley Jones. He spoke of the close relationship between Chief Blankenship and his own son. He gave a very moving message to us all about how he had bonded with the chief, like he was his own son. He then went on to say that, "

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    Del. Assistant Chief Faulted in Fatal Fire

    Del. Assistant Chief Faulted in Fatal Fire

    100-Page Report Blames Poor Decisions

    The News Journal

    A Greenwood, Del. Assistant Chief killed in a training and demolition burn made a series of decisions that ultimately led to his death, including staying inside the burning building too long and spraying diesel fuel onto open flames, a state report says.

    The 100-page report released Friday by the State Fire Marshal's Office concludes Greenwood Fire Company Assistant Chief Arnold Blankenship III died in the April 30 fire after he stayed behind to "spray a little more" fuel.

    The six-year veteran and father of a year-old boy was killed in a flashover that enveloped the attic of the 2 1/2-story farmhouse west of Bridgeville, sending the temperature soaring to about 1,200 degrees, according the report and fire officials.

    "What happened here was an unfortunate group of events that all culminated in a fire that caused the death of Assistant Chief Blankenship," Deputy State Fire Marshal Willard F. Preston said. "... I can't tell you, if one [decision] was removed, if it would have made a difference."

    The report concludes that Blankenship, 27, a former company firefighter of the year, stayed in the burning building despite being urged to leave by at least two other firefighters.

    Blankenship also ordered fires set at the same time inside the attic, causing the temperature to quickly rise in the confined area.

    And his decision to spray fuel onto flames probably "resulted in the flash fire that enveloped the attic, and ultimately claimed his life."

    The use of diesel fuel, while considered risky, is not barred for demolition burns, said Joe Murabito, director of the Delaware State Fire School.

    Blankenship's wife, Dawn, reviewed the report earlier this week and had no comment Friday.

    The report concluded almost four months of investigation by the Fire Marshal's Office.

    Blankenship's death had been ruled an accident. It was the first on-the-job fatality of a Delaware firefighter in at least two years.

    Fanning the flames

    The testimony of several firefighters has been used by the Fire Marshal's Office to reconstruct what happened. The following is what investigators believe took place, based on those interviews and their investigation:

    Blankenship and several other firefighters went to Richard F. Carlisle's farmhouse the morning of April 30 for training exercises and for the demolition burn.

    Carlisle wanted the house torn down so he could build a new structure. He has said he planned to give the fire company a donation for the work, a common practice with some volunteer fire companies in Delaware.

    The firefighters arrived about 7 a.m. that breezy Sunday and began setting up, arranging their trucks so they could protect nearby outbuildings and trees. The volunteers laid hoses along the ground and walked through the house to make sure everything was OK.

    Blankenship and other firefighters then set small fires on the first floor to show the evolution of a blaze. Those were extinguished.

    Meanwhile, Chief Thomas Jones and an equipment salesman were testing a new saw by cutting vent holes in sections of the house.

    With their training done, Blankenship and four other firefighters went upstairs and then into the attic to begin the demolition burn.

    Firefighter Jason E. Fannin set several fires in a small room on the west side of the L-shaped attic. Those spread quickly, possibly fanned by winds coming in through a window.

    Fannin closed the door as he left the room, and then told Blankenship to leave with him. The attic was getting hot and smoky.

    Blankenship said he wanted to use the air remaining in his breathing tank, so Fannin left alone, according to the report.

    Blankenship and firefighters Michael R. Moran, Michael L. Walls and Ronald Hurst stayed behind, on the south end, where they were starting another fire. Blankenship, who was in charge, told Walls to go downstairs and asked Hurst to fetch a can of diesel fuel from the second floor.

    Blankenship said he wanted to accelerate the fire, the report said.

    Hurst grabbed the can, which had a spray nozzle, and climbed back into the attic, but then left right away.

    On the attic's south end, Moran and Blankenship set more fires, with Blankenship spraying fuel and Moran using a road flare to ignite flames.

    The two spread flames on the wall and an artificial Christmas tree, and then Moran told Blankenship that he had to leave. The heat and smoke were too much.

    Blankenship -- the only firefighter equipped with an air tank and additional protective gear to keep the heat at bay -- stayed behind.

    Moran said, "Arnie, let's go," the report said.

    "I want to spray a little more," Moran said Blankenship told him. "I am right behind you."

    Seconds after Moran descended the attic stairs that last time, firefighters below heard four thumps on the attic floor.

    Then they heard a heavy "woof." The flashover had ignited.

    Blinding, black smoke filled the house. Blankenship was trapped.

    Firefighters tried unsuccessfully to get to him. When they did, he was dead.

    Sense of security

    Medical officials later ruled that Blankenship died of severe thermal burns and smoke inhalation.

    Officials said the fact that Blankenship was in full protective gear with an air tank might have kept him from feeling the heat and breathing the smoke others were sensing.

    "He may have been lulled into a sense of security with that gear," Preston said.

    Greenwood Fire Company President Clay Yocum said he was numbed by the report's conclusions.

    "I don't know what propelled him that day to go back and give [the fire] another squirt," Yocum said. "... Certainly, that was not a normal decision an officer would make."

    Yocum said the fire company has suspended all controlled and demolition burns. If the company does resume them, officials might come up with new safeguards after reviewing the report.

    "Would we do it again, using an accelerant?" Yocum said. "I seriously doubt it."

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