An attic fire enveloped and seriously burned the hands of a firefighter around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, while he was standing on the roof and using a chain saw to cut a ventilation hole of a four-bedroom one-story house just east of Flood Park, authorities said.
The injured firefighter, whom the Menlo Park Fire Protection District did not identify, spent a night in Stanford Hospital for observation and is expected to fully recover from the first- and second-degree burns to his hands, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said in a statement.
That the firefighter was wearing protective gloves at the time the fire flashed over and caused his injuries is significant and will be investigated, the chief said. The district had checked recently to ensure that the firefighters weren't using gloves a manufacturer had recently recalled.
"Any time we have one of our personnel injured we take that very, very seriously and conduct a comprehensive post-incident review of the emergency," Chief Schapelhouman said in the statement. "While what happened is certainly unfortunate, I'm glad that it wasn't worse, given the difficult conditions that firefighters can face on the fire ground when they are combating an active fire. We got lucky on this one."
Firefighters responded to a 6:44 p.m. phone call from a neighbor reporting gray smoke coming from the roof of the house at 1058 Oakland Ave., the chief said. One company of firefighters arrived four minutes later; that number grew to about 20, including two battalion chiefs to manage the incident, the chief said.
By 7:15 p.m., the fire was under control, but did $400,000 in damage to the structure and $100,000 to the contents, the chief said. Five renting tenants lived in the 2,000-square-foot home but have been displaced, as the house is not safe for occupation.
This was not a simple fire to extinguish, and several holes had to be cut into the roof, the chief said. Complicating factors included super-heated gases and smoke, an enclosed and elevated area where the fire might be when trying to fight it from the inside, and not knowing exactly where the flames were, the chief said.
"... Extinguishment was difficult and took more time and much more effort by crews working the fire," he said.
Prior to his injury, the firefighter, who was wearing his mask and other safety equipment, had left the roof to get a fresh chain saw. He resumed his work but had forgotten to reattach the air-regulator to his mask "when the fire ball swept over him," the chief said.
The flames burned through his gloves, but he came through with his respiratory tract only irritated -- a "miraculous" outcome, the chief said. When the flames leapt up, the firefighter had the presence of mind to hold his breath and back away as fellow firefighters pulled him away from the ventilation hole.
The fireball having subsided, the injured firefighter went on to finish his assignment before leaving the roof, Chief Schapelhouman said.