Paris firefighter injured battling blaze

Captain Zack Janis survives fall through second floor

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 1/27/20

An early morning structure fire Jan. 18 at 805 Douglas sent Paris Fire Captain Zack Janis to the hospital after falling through the second story floor to the first floor.

Fire chief Brian Gates …

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Paris firefighter injured battling blaze

Captain Zack Janis survives fall through second floor

Posted

An early morning structure fire Jan. 18 at 805 Douglas sent Paris Fire Captain Zack Janis to the hospital after falling through the second story floor to the first floor.

Fire chief Brian Gates confirmed Friday morning Janis is off duty on medical leave until a variety of doctors determine he is fit to return to work.

“He has a back injury and has to see a specialist,” said Gates. “The best case is he is off for a short time. We will know more after he sees more doctors.”

The incident reaffirms how dangerous firefighting is even with all of the training and technology available to firefighters and their own understanding of the importance of moving cautiously and deliberately.

“Zack did everything by the book,” said Gates. “He was sounding the floor and communicating. Everyone did everything they were supposed to do and trained to do.”

Firefighting is not formulaic. Each building is different creating a unique scenario at every incident.

The department was dispatched at 3:29 a.m. and when the duty crew arrived fire and smoke appeared confined to two downstairs rooms and the contents. Access to information about the home or how the fire started was not available because the home’s occupant was unable to communicate with them.

“The occupant barely made it out with severe carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Gates, adding the occupant was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

With the house actively burning, Gates said the duty crew entered the home with a 2-inch line to knock down the flames as quickly as possible. He added firefighters always try to fight the fire from inside the building when possible because an exterior attack can result in the fire actually spreading. The initial crew did a good job on the visible active fire.

“When I showed up there were no flames,” said Gates.

He was concerned by what they couldn’t see. Gates said the house was a balloon-frame structure from the early 1900s, meaning the studs are the full height of the house from the sill plate to the attic without any fire blocks as used in modern construction.

Balloon frame houses are notorious for fire getting into the interstices between studs and climbing unstopped between the exterior and interior walls. When that happens the flames can roll over in the attic and spread to other parts of the building.

Gates said even though the fire appeared to be out heavy smoke was still coming from the second floor and attic area. He added the weather conditions of rain and no wind kept the smoke close to the house rather than letting it rise into the atmosphere.

The scene presented another puzzle because the fire started on the east side of the home but there was also fire burning in a west wall with no visible connecting fire between them. By that time, all three Paris shifts were on scene and the Vermilion Station of the Paris Community Fire Protection District was en route to provide assistance, and the Redmon Station was coming in to cover the Paris station in the event of another call.

Not knowing the source of the west side fire or where other active fire was burning and also not knowing if there might be other people inside since the occupant was unable to communicate, a decision was made to do an interior search for hot spots and possible victims.

Firefighters do not walk upright inside buildings where heavy smoke exists. They crawl on their hands and knees to do a search or fight the fire.

Janis led firefighters Mark Brinkerhoff and Brady Puckett up the stairs to search the second story. They were equipped with a thermal camera and tools for tapping on the floor to gauge how solid the surface was under them.

Gates said when the team reached the top of the stairs, Janis relayed information the floor felt spongy and to move with caution. Janis kept tapping the floor as he moved toward a closed door.

“Firefighter Brinkerhoff heard him yell and reached out to grab him,” said Gates.

The floor gave out and Janis was caught in an awkward angle. One leg dangled below him and the other was pinned between him and what remained of the floor.

Brinkerhoff, who was lying on the stairs did get a hold of Janis but could not capture a firm grip due to his angle and the thick gloves of his turnout gear. Puckett was trying to maneuver in the confined space to also get a hold of Janis without putting any more weight on the floor.

Firefighter Mentor Reynolds, who was in the building, and firefighter Brad Hecht, who was outside, heard Brinkerhoff’s calls for help and tried to reach Janis in order to support him from below, but they were too late.

Gates said in piecing everything together after the accident, it appears Janis lost consciousness and was no longer able to assist in supporting his body. At that point, he became dead weight and fell. When firefighters reached him, Janis was on his hands and knees on the first floor. They got him outside and the Horizon Health ambulance crew took over care.

Another firefighter trying to access the second floor through a window reported a hole in the floor below the window. With that information, all firefighting moved to an exterior attack because it was too dangerous to be inside.

Gates said what appears to have weakened the floor of the second story was a repair effort to the upstairs plumbing. The home’s occupant had removed some lath and plaster sections in order to gain access to make the repairs. Those repairs allowed the flames to gain access to the space between the downstairs ceiling and the upstairs floor.

The flames burned along the floor joists providing the unseen transmission route to the west wall and also burning parts of the floor from beneath and leaving a thin layer of wood on the surface. Other areas of the floor burned through.

Gates said investigators are looking at a possible electrical cause for the fire, and he has not yet heard from the insurance company if the home is a total loss.

According to Gates, when everything is considered, this incident could have had a much worse result.

“Getting him back to work at 100 percent is the priority but a lot of parameters have to be met to make that happen,” said Gates. “It’s going to take time.”