Firefighters are taught that if they get in trouble in a building fire, they can follow their hose out.
But what does that firefighter do when the line is burned through? That’s what occurred early Feb. 7 when Raytown and Kansas City firefighters fought a fire in a Raytown apartment building.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of in our department of a hose completely failing, burning in two,” said Mike Hunley, Raytown deputy fire chief.
The fire destroyed the three-level apartment building and left two people dead: Jeremiah Roberts, 4, and his grandmother Cherri Roberts.
One sibling, Jacob, 6, escaped. Another sibling, 18-month-old Ja’Bin, suffered serious burn injuries.
Fire crews responded about 2:20 a.m. to the apartment at 9811 E. 60th St. Audio released by the Raytown Fire Deparment captures two scenarios, both of which happened almost simultaneously and could have made a tragic event even more so.
One involved the fire hose. The second involved two colleagues who, when that hose gave out, were separated from the first firefighter by a wall of fire and smoke.
The building featured hallways that ran the length of the building front to back on all three floors.
Three Raytown firefighters took a fire hose in through the front entrance. Although the fire appeared to be on the ground floor, they could hear people screaming for help on the next floor up.
The three firefighters brought the fire hose through that upper floor, encountering heat and heavy smoke with limited visibility, Hunley said.
When they arrived at the end of the hall, a Raytown fire captain told one firefighter to train the hose on the smoke and heat coming up the rear staircase while he and the other firefighter went up the stairs to try to help the 18-month-old and his grandmother.
But then the hose burned and ruptured.
According to the audio recording, a firefighter with Truck 13 called out over the radio: “We got a busted line!”
“Command, this is dispatch,” the answer came. “It sounds like truck 13’s line is a busted line.”
As soon as the hose failed, the fire and heat roared back, separating the one firefighter from the other two on the staircase landing, Hunley said.
One firefighter was holding the child while the second was trying to help the grandmother, whom the fire captain couldn’t move by himself. Fearing for the baby, the two firefighters brought the child up to the third level.
“They knew this baby had seconds to survive in this environment,” Hunley said.
They approached the front staircase but the digital temperature readout on one firefighter’s thermal camera read 800 degreres.
“He knows he can’t go down that staircase with that baby,” Hunley said. He then found an apartment door and entered and knocked out a window.
“That’s when he calls the mayday,” said Hunley.
On the tape, another voice called out in distress. “Pumper 51, I need a ladder up to the second floor, right now.”
“Mayday mayday,” a dispatcher announced. “All units, mayday, mayday mayday second floor crew, all units mayday.”
Another fire crew brought a ladder to the window, and the two Raytown firefighters handed the 18-month-old baby out the window.
On the tape, a dispatcher called, “Pumper 51, do you copy? You got a ladder.”
Fire crews continued to send updates from the burning building. “Command, this is 105 … We do have a mayday up here. We’re effecting a rescue, we need a line up here to the third floor, and everybody’s OK.”
The two Raytown firefighters first thought they would have to leave the building by the ladder. But other crews helped lead them out, Hunley said.
The lone firefighter, meanwhile, found the end of his ruptured hose and trained it on the fire. But it wasn’t effective, and he ended up crawling back out through the front door, Hunley said.
Then firefighters went in for the grandmother and brought her out. She died the next day.
Two Raytown firefighers suffered minor injuries, one with minor burns around the ears and the other with debris in an eye.
The audio tape will help Raytown firefighters process what happened when, Hunley said.
“Everybody leaves a fire wondering, ‘What could I have done better?’ ” he said.