Courage and Valor Understated

The citation is proof that people can survive even in the most
unthinkable conditions

By Dave LeBlanc

Originally published March 24, 2011

“With Ladder 132’s inside team still waiting for a hoseline and unable to enter the stairwell, Demontreux entered the third-floor window from the aerial and began his search. Demontreux was able to search the front room but was forced to retreat to the window because of the high-heat condition and zero visibility. Firefighter Myers of Rescue 2, on the aerial ladder, then vented the windows in the front of the apartment to allow some of the blistering heat and smoke to escape. This allowed Demontreux to resume his search. With conditions improved slightly, he was able to make his way to the rear of the apartment.

When Demontreux reached the rear, he discovered Mr. Mantony hanging out a rear window to escape the heat. Realizing that there were no fire escapes or portable ladders in the rear Demontreux, without regard for his own safety, determined that the only way out was the window through which he entered. Through the high heat and zero visibility he led Mantony back toward the front window. When they were halfway through the apartment, the entire third floor exploded into flames, engulfing both men and setting them ablaze. Myers, still on the aerial at the window, immediately transmitted a Mayday, believing that Demontreux and the victim could be lost in the explosion of fire.

Firefighter Peter Demontreux tends to the victim he rescued. Both victim and Firefighter Demontreux suffered extensive burns. (FDNY/Danny Iudici photo)

Demontreux, now on fire himself, made the conscious and calculated decision that he would not leave Mantony behind. Although he found himself in a fully involved room and at extreme personal risk, he stayed with Mantony and continued to assist him to the window and the aerial device for escape. When they reached that window, Demontreux again displayed incredible selflessness and bravery by resisting the urge to save himself first. Ignoring his immediate personal danger, intense heat, and extreme personal risk, he pushed Mantony out of the window onto Ladder 132’s waiting aerial ladder before diving out of the window onto the ladder himself.” [1]

At the FDIC, Fireman 1st Grade Peter Demontreux was awarded the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award for the action described above. Fireman Demontreux action certainly are above and beyond the call of duty, but they also represent action taken by a firefighter that was trained in a Department that is committed to saving lives when buildings are on fire.

It is interesting that from the same Department, there comes a concept called victim survivability profiling. Developed as part of an Executive Fire Officer Project at the Nation Fire Academy by Captain Marsar of the FDNY, survivability profiling is a concept where the “go/no go” decision to commit personnel to search is altered by the condition found. Captain Marsar describes his profiling “as the art of examining a situation and making an intelligent and informed decision based on known events, or circumstances, to determine if civilians can survive existing fire and smoke conditions and to determine whether to commit firefighters to life-saving and interior operations. Based on the likelihood of civilian survivability, this concept goes beyond the tendency to justify risk whenever we respond to an occupied structure fire.” [2]

By reading the description above, one would wonder if the heat was too intense for the firefighter to continue, what chance would a civilian have, even after the apartment was vented? Yet Fireman Demontreux stayed true to his training and his Department’s commitment to save lives.

Survivability profiling was born out of a concern for firefighter deaths while searching for victims. Yet the statistics don’t bear out the concern. For the year 2007 cited by Marsar, 47 firefighters died at structure fires where only 2 victims were killed. [3] What is the correlation between Firefighter deaths and civilian deaths? How many victims were saved? At what point in the operation did the firefighter deaths occur? Certainly we all must do everything within our power to limit the risks that firefighters are exposed to, but a wholesale change in mission? In his article “%$#@ “Victim Survivability Profiling”; Do Your Primary Search”, Chris Brennan argues that profiling isn’t all that different than the size up we are supposed to being doing, as an ongoing assessment of conditions. But he also points out some of the flaws with assuming victims may not be alive, just by the amount of smoke or fire in the building. Chris also points out the other part of our mission to protect property. [4]

In his second article “Survivability Profiling – continuing discussion” , Chris Brennan posted an email that he received from Captain Marsar in reply to his first article. Captain Marsar states, “Survivability Profiling is a “concept.” And honestly, as a career interior -structural firefighter, not one that I am even 100% comfortable with. However, it was my intention to stir conversation and yes, even debate, on the subject which you so readily acknowledge.” [5] The concern with this statement is that this “concept” is now becoming doctrine. It is listed as the Number 2 item in the IAFC “Rules of Engagement” poster. [6] It was also cited as a failure in the Homewood, IL NIOSH report, NIOSH Report 2010-10. Yet by Marsar’s own words, it is still a “concept”, with articles discussing practical applications yet to be published.

The citation above is proof that people can survive even in the most unthinkable conditions. When we signed up for this job, no one forced us to do it. We swore, of sound mind and body, to place our lives between fire and our victims. We swore to be our brother’s keeper. If we try, we can find all kinds of excuses that could keep us from this mission. But at the end of the day, we owe it to ourselves and the people we serve to be well trained and well prepared each and every time we go out the door. It remains to be seen if VSP is another tool to be placed in our toolbox.

Congratulations to Fireman Peter Demontreux of 132 Truck for a job well done.

1. FDNY’s Demontreux Awarded 2011 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, Fire Engineering, FDIC, March 2011
2. Survivability Profiling: How Long Can Victims Survive in a Fire? Fire Engineering, Marsar, July 2010
3. Survivability Profiling: Are the Victims Savable? Fire Engineering, Marsar, December 2009
4. “%$#@ “Victim Survivability Profiling”; Do Your Primary Search” The Fire Service Warrior, Brennan, October 2010
5. “Survivability Profiling – continuing discussion” The Fire Service Warrior, Brennan, November 2010
6. IAFC Rules of Engagement

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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