Harrisonburg Firefighters Talk About Their Close Call

Courtesy: Harrisonburg Fire Department

Firefighters say gas, caused by a Harrisonburg townhouse fire Thursday morning, made fighting the fire worse.

It happened at the Copper Beech Townhome community off Chestnut Ridge Drive.

The gas collected in an attic, and with no way to escape from the building, it exploded and left crews no choice but to "bail out."

There were six firefighters in the building when that backdraft occurred. Two of them had to suddenly escape through a second-story window.

"You didn't really have time to think about it to be scared. You knew you had to get out," says Harrisonburg firefighter Chad Smith.

On Thursday, he had to do something he had only ever trained to do before.
He and fellow firefighter Bradley Clark, who is a master firefighter, say their training served them well.

"We know our job is a dangerous job, and we train for situations like this, hoping to never experience them," says Clark.

Smith and Clark were trying to find their way into a townhouse next to one that was already on fire. At first, they only saw smoke in the attic.

"Soon after that, we notice there were some flames in the attic, so we called for a hose line to the second floor," says Clark.

The, the pair realized the fire was in an area they couldn't reach with water.

"We were spraying water into the space that we could get to but we weren't touching the fire, and the fire was growing above our head," explains Clark.

When they used tools to pull down the ceiling, things got worse.

"The gasses kind of ignited and the room turned into a big fireball, and we had to get out as quick as we could. The way we came in had been cut off with fire," says Smith.

"The one firefighter was fully engulfed in flames when I turned around and looked back at him," describes Clark.

That firefighter would make it out with just a blister on his ear.

Clark and Smith made it out safely through a pair of windows.

Both say the only thing they were thinking about during the ordeal was getting out of the building.

A second firefighter suffered second-degree burns, and a third was treated for heat exhaustion.