DC Fire Chief Takes Responsibility for "Comedy Act"

Firefighters go up in flames at Gallaudet sprinkler demo

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Firefighters catch fire at a sprinkler demonstration at Gallaudet University.

    WASHINGTON -- Three D.C. firefighters had to be extinguished after catching fire at a sprinkler demonstration last week, and the department head is taking the blame.

    On Wednesday, during National Fire Prevention Week and a week after Campus Fire Safety Month ended, the D.C. Fire Department set fire to two mock rooms at Gallaudet University -- one with a sprinkler and one without. Video shows that when three firefighters moved in to extinguish the room without the sprinkler, a burning Plexiglas overhang set up to hold in the heat and smoke and give the equipment time to work dripped on them, igniting their gear.

    "I think some of the failures on our part, and I'll take full responsibility ... we wanted to have a demonstration that would be impactful so that the equipment would work in a reasonable time frame," D.C. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin said on a Firehouse.com podcast.

    In future demonstrations, the department will find a less combustible overhang to keep the heat and smoke in -- or none at all.

    The firefighters didn't realize they were burning until observers called it to their attention. One of them spent the night at Washington Hospital Center with small burns on his face and hand. He is expected to return to work.

    The botched demonstration looked like a "comedy act," Rubin said.

    The series of errors that contributed to the mishap -- no safety officer, no briefing of the crew, no checklist and no active backup line -- resulted in a lesson for future demonstrations, though Firehouse.com contributor and campus fire safety expert Ed Comeau noted that such mishaps are rare, as these demonstrations are commonplace.

    D.C. Fire erred in straying from standard rules of live fire training, Rubin said.

    "If anybody needs to be reprimanded, as it were, it needs to be me," he said.