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5 firefighters trapped, hurt as D.C. roof collapses

By Theola Labbe-DeBose,

A special team of investigators will review how five firefighters became trapped and injured when the roof of a burning home in Northeast Washington collapsed, a spokesman for Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe said Friday.

The inquiry will be led by fire department personnel from a cross-section of divisions and will focus on “all aspects of the incident: response, firefighting, gear and others,” department spokesman Pete Piringer said.

One firefighter remains in critical condition and three others are in serious condition after the two-alarm blaze in the 800 block of 48th Place NE in the Deanwood neighborhood.

Piringer said that when firefighters arrived shortly after 12:30 a.m., people were evacuating the home and that a group of firefighters from Rescue Squad 3 in Anacostia went in to make sure that everyone was out. As they started to fight the fire, a separate group of firefighters known as the rescue intervention team waited at the scene, just as they normally would.

Inside, the fire quickly turned into a “super-heated” environment, Piringer said, that can be deadly even with protective gear. “It’s like an oven glove — it can protect you up to a certain temperature,” Piringer said. Another danger was the possibility of steam burns from the mix of a firefighter’s sweat and the hot conditions.

Without warning, the roof caved in, and several firefighters were injured by the debris. The crew signaled for backup, Piringer said, and the rescue team went in. One of the firefighters injured was from the rescue team and works at Truck Company 13 at the Trinidad station.

Three firefighters from the Anacostia station and one from the Trinidad station remained hospitalized late Friday. Another firefighter, from Truck Company 4 in Northwest, suffered minor burns and was treated and released.

A D.C. official confirmed that one of the injured firefighters was Charles Ryan, the chief of the volunteer Riverdale Fire Department and a D.C. firefighter.

Friday, a somber mood took over the firehouses where the injured firefighters worked. A supervisor who answered the phone at the Anacostia station said the topic was too sensitive to talk about.

Lt. John Thornton, a supervisor at the Trinidad firehouse, said firefighters were clearly affected by what happened to their injured comrades.

“It’s a brotherhood,” he said. “It’s like family members who are injured, and it hurts. We’re just dealing with it.”

Thornton said the firehouse is awaiting updates and is ready to support the families of the injured firefighters.

“We’ll take up a collection, cook food for the family, babysit, drive them around — whatever it takes,” Thornton said.

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