Saving Micah: We got him out of the hole, now let's get back to work

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

There wasn't much time for thinking, said Morenci Fire Department member R.J. Robinson after he helped rescue another firefighter in a burning house. There was only time to react.

fire storyThat sounds good to assistant chief Brad Lonis. It lets him know his department members are well versed in rescue techniques. In other words, all the hard work paid off.

"We push and we push and if they don't do it right, we do it again," Lonis said.

Three of his department members got it right at a house fire Feb. 10 on Medina Road. When Micah Borton fell through the floor of the burning house into the basement, his colleagues Robinson, Cory Holt and Jon Erskin quickly pulled him to safety.

"I put a lot of thought into what happened and how they handled themselves," Lonis said, "especially after watching the video."

Robinson has a video camera mounted on his helmet which proves to be a great tool for critiquing actions taken inside a structure.

"I had to watch it four or five times," Lonis said. "They did not panic. I think they're to be commended for what they did."

Lonis said that flames were visible from every opening on the front side of the house when the squad arrived. 

The four firefighters were running a hose from the back of the house toward the front where the fire was the most intense. The smoke was thick and Robinson, at the back, couldn't see Borton at the front. Borton's job was to "sound the floor"—smack it with the butt of an axe to make sure it was safe.

"During training, we're hammered about communication," Robinson said. "We're constantly keeping track of the whereabouts of the others."

He knew Erskin was in front of him and that Holt was the next one on the hose and that Borton was in the front. He asked about Borton and Holt replied, "He's right in front of me."

And then he wasn't.

"It's quite the feeling to see someone standing there and then suddenly they're gone," Holt said.

It was a surprise for Borton, too.

“One minute there was a floor,” he said, “and all of a sudden it fell apart.”

He stepped on a weak area and tumbled about eight feet to the basement floor, taking out heating ducts on his way down. 

Eight feet might not sound like much, Holt said, but remember that Borton was wearing about 40 pounds of gear plus an air bottle, and falling into a chamber of smoke and flames.

It wasn’t only the three rescuers who acted fast, Lonis said. Borton immediately triggered the personal alert safety system (PASS button) on his chest to sound a tone for the others to hear. Survival skills are every bit as important as rescue skills, Lonis said, and Borton responded just as he should. 

Robinson clearly remembers how Erskin turned and calmly stated, "Micah fell through a hole." Not a trace of panic in that voice.

The trio’s first action was to feed the hose down into the basement for Borton to use to quell flames, if needed. Then they went to work on the rescue.

"All the stuff we got in training just kicked in," Holt said. "I laid down on the floor and Jon grabbed ahold of me."

Borton leaped up off the floor and slipped out of Holt's grasp on the first attempt. The second time they connected and he was pulled out of the hole.

"It makes you think back to why they're pushing us so hard in training," Holt said, "and you're hoping it never happens."

"It did," Robinson said, "and we went to work."

Lonis was unaware of the situation. He was consulting with the Hudson department chief when the four emerged from the house. At first he was a little upset and wondered why they were back out so soon. They advised against sending anyone back into the center of the structure because the floor was weak.

"How do you know?" they were asked.

"Because Micah just fell through."

"They got him out, they got their bearings, they changed their air bottles and they went back to work," Lonis said. "From the time Micah fell into the hole until they had him out was about a minute and 20 seconds."

RIT training

All three of the rescuers credit the department's heavy emphasis on rapid intervention team (RIT) training. Twenty-three of the department's 29 members are involved in the program—a higher percentage than many area departments.

RIT teams are called to monitor the safety of other department's firefighters during structure fires, and to provide a quick response when someone needs to be helped out of a bad situation. When Morenci's RIT team is called to assist Wauseon, for example, team members will frequently circle the burning building, becoming aware of all windows and doors, watching for changes in the development of the fire, looking for trouble areas, setting up a ladder near a window for quick rescue, etc.

RIT training is scheduled once a month in addition to regular training, or as Lonis puts it, one extra night away from the family. Lonis praised department member Steve Olmstead who oversees the RIT training program.

"A lot of the credit for the rescue goes to Brad and Chad [Schisler]," Holt said. "They're pushing us to do it."

Lonis figures this is the first time that the squad's RIT training has been put to use on an actual fire scene. He's seen the potential for problems in the past, but nothing ever happened until now.

Borton, on the receiving end of the rescue, also appreciates the hours of training and he’s glad to know department members are following proper procedures. 

“It gives you a lot of confidence to know your crew is there,” he said.

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