Boise fire chief: Firefighters were saved by their training

An order to retreat led firefighters to safety before a Hill Road house collapsed.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comAugust 3, 2013 

fire, boise, idaho, hill road, blaze, burn, destory

The remains of a home at Hill and Castle in Northwest Boise smolder Friday morning after in a three-alarm blaze Thursday night. “We rarely have a third alarm,” Chief Dennis Doan said.

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

  • Boise has lost 5 firefighters since 1894

    The last Boise firefighter to lose his life was Posey "Pete" Phillips, who died Dec. 18, 1988. Four other firefighters have died in service to the Boise Fire Department, which was established in 1876. They are T.D. Catalan Jr. in 1894; Capt. James Lindsay in 1919; Lt. Boyd Hubbell in 1964; and Martin Samuelson in 1978.

Decisive action by fire officials monitoring efforts to put out a house fire Thursday night on West Hill Road led to firefighters being ordered to back away seconds before the structure collapsed in a burst of flames.

"We were really close to losing a firefighter," Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said at a Friday press conference called to show video from the fire.

The dramatic footage shot from a camera mounted in a command vehicle shows about a dozen firefighters at the front of the two-story house at 5120 W. Hill Road dousing the blaze.

Capt. Randy Christensen, positioned at the back of the house, saw a wall bow and realized the house was in danger of imminent collapse, Doan said. He told Battalion Chief Aaron Hummel, who told the firefighters to get away.

"All units, this is command, back up from your positions out of the collapse zone of the structure," Hummel is heard saying on the tape.

Seven firefighters positioned 10 to 15 feet from the front of the house calmly started walking down the driveway toward the street.

At 9:43 p.m., six seconds after Hummel's final "back up" command, a rush of flames shot out an opening where the garage door had been and through a nearby window. The house collapsed.

"Our training paid off. It kept firefighters alive," Doan said.

The house, empty at the time, was going through a major renovation. It had been gutted inside, so the fire spread very quickly, officials said. The blaze reportedly got a big head start before it was noticed and firefighters called.

Firefighters were stationed close to the house to keep the blaze from spreading next door, Doan said. "They were close, but they had to be close to save the (other house)."

The fire was reported at 9:30 p.m. In all, three fire engines and a ladder truck and 55 firefighters were deployed, Doan said.

The cause is under investigation, Doan said. Investigators were at the scene Friday afternoon, while cleanup crews placed a temporary chain-link fence around the property. Only the house's front entrance remained.

SCARY FOR NEIGHBORS

"We were so scared the trees would start on fire and spread the fire to our house," said 8-year-old Angela Hocking, who lives across the street.

Cayce Myers was driving west on Hill Road Thursday and noticed smoke coming from the house. She and her sons J.C., 8, and Bodhi, 3, alerted the Hockings and other neighbors.

"We stopped and watched and made sure everyone was out," Myers said. "The fire was very intense."

She was thankful it didn't spread. "I was so surprised that none of the adjacent properties caught on fire," she said.

The five-bedroom, 6,216-square-foot house is owned by Douglas and Kathryn Hinderager of Kelso, Wash. The home and half-acre property were valued at $260,000, according to Ada County assessor's records. It was valued at as much at $457,200 in 2008, before the economy declined.

The house was built in 1956 and remodeled in 2002. Myers, who said she has lived in the neighborhood her entire life, said it has been a long time since anyone lived there. It seems to be undergoing constant remodeling, she said.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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