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#IAM911: An apartment fire and the calming voice in the dark

12 Apr 2017 8:00 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Nicole Hoover, Cypress Creek EMS, Communications Training officer

The voice in the dark, the face that isn’t seen and the last to know the outcome, is where my story comes from.

I took a 911 fire call that I will never forget. No different than any other fire we work in the center; call volume is high especially for an apartment fire. My partner and I took a dozens of calls for a working apartment fire, but I was stopped and kept one person on the phone during the intense call volume coming in.

It was a male and his wife, unable to leave the apartment due to the fire. I don’t think I will ever forget him telling me that he was unable to get out because flames were outside his door. On the inside I was panicking, but I knew I had to remain calm so they knew they were in good hands. I instructed them to get into the bathroom in the bath tub. This was the safest spot at the time.

Trapped in a fire

I remember him telling me that he and his wife were together in the bathroom. At this point you start to make an image for yourself. A couple, scared on the phone with a stranger telling them that help was on the way, all the while they could hear and feel the fire outside their apartment walls.

We talked and both remained calm. What do you say to someone that is trapped in their apartment while it’s on fire? I honestly couldn’t tell you the details of our conversation; we tend to block things out to cope.

During the call, while we were waiting for the fire department to arrive on scene and make it to their apartment, the phone went dead. I lost the connection.

Tragedy strikes

A couple of days later while on shift I overheard people talking about the fire and that people passed away. So of course my ears tuned into the conversation. I was informed that the couple that I was on the phone with never made it out. After more information came out I was also informed that our fire marshal did a time line and smoke inhalation caused this outcome and the fire department would not have made it to them in time.

Months later, my agency decided to use this as a training scenario, for our employees and new hires. At this point, the couple’s identity was released, and I could put a face to the voices. After people hear the recording and watch the presentation, I get asked, “how do you deal with that?”

I know that I did everything I could for them to get help, I was their calming voice in the dark.

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