In a few life changing seconds, one Chouteau firefighter was reminded just how dangerous his job can be.
Ref Fasinpaur was one of the first firefighters to enter a house on fire Dec. 12. He and his partner were headed to the back of the house where they believed the fire originated.
For Fasinpaur and the rest of the crew, it was business as usual.
Moments later, he attempted to take a breath and couldn't. The flow of oxygen from his air pack had stopped. He quickly switched to emergency bypass. The emergency secondary system failed.
Forced to hold his breath, Fasinpaur grabbed his partner and began to run out of the house filled with flames and smoke.
“He was able to exit the house but blacked out on the porch area,” said Fire Chief Ted Key. “He was outdoors but still sucked in a lot of smoke, enough that we were really worried about him.”
The crew helped Fasinpaur out of the house, to the ambulance that was just arriving on scene, all while fighting the structure fire.
“So many things could have happened differently. Tiny changes and Ref may not have made it out alive. He was headed to the back of the house. If he had been back there when the air pack failed he may not have made it out as this residence had no back door,” said Key.
Paramedics checked the firefighter out and said he was OK.
Key said as upsetting as the situation was, their minds are not yet at ease.
“These air packs were serviced Nov. 20 by Panhandle Breathing Air Systems Inc. All 17 of our air packs passed the inspection with a 100 percent,” said Key, who does not understand how the entire air pack could fail, including the secondary system.
“We brought it back to the station, reported it to the Fire Marshal, and looked it over. It barely flows air due to a mechanical malfunction. The secondary system, however, is separate from that mechanical function so we have no speculation as to how the entire thing could fail,” said Key, who said the bypass should work no matter what the electronics do.
Key said the department has used the company for several years and have never had a problem.
The air packs, Key said, are about 8 years old and because they cost between $5,000 and $6,000, the town cannot afford to replace all 17 units.
Panhandle Breathing Air Systems Inc.'s website says it specializes in on-site SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) annual certification testing.
“We know how important it is to have the right equipment and have it working when you need it...at any time,” the website says.
While the company Facebook page has not been updated since Aug. 27, 2012, the last status update was, “We treat your equipment like we are the ones going to wear it.”
Key said the department is discussing the situation with the mayor and the city attorney to determine a course of action.
“We've received lots of phone calls from other firefighters who heard the situation over the radio. They are worried, wanting to know what happened,” said Key. “Our air packs are our lifeline.”