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In the aftermath of a fatal fire, a Pennsylvania fire fighter reacts

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Read this first hand account of a difficult fire fight and recovery effort

By Brian Oppelt Sr., first responder from Larksville PA

I didn’t want to do this, but after reading some horrible comments about our (all Fd’s involved) efforts on Sundays fire I feel I have to do this…

First off….I can not stress enough ,the importance of calling 911 ,as soon as humanly possible. Fire , police, or medical emergency it doesn’t matter. 911 needs to be called immediately, as every single second turns into a precious second. It can ultimately mean the difference between a rescue ,or a recovery.

The picture you see is a pre-arrival picture from Sunday’s fire. This was taken BEFORE any fire personnel were on scene. You DON’T see, a fire truck, a fireman , hose lines, you don’t see a single person.

I’ll start by saying, contrary to belief, our fire gear does not allow us to walk through fire. A very harsh reality that we had to face this day was , at this point, temperatures and conditions inside this house are not survivable, period….. It’s not something any emergency personnel ever want to say to loved ones outside of a fire.

One of the valleys best , most experienced fire fighters with over 30 years on the job , was of the first on scene. As people begged and pleaded with him to get in there and save the victim , he knew dam well there wasn’t going to be a rescue made at this point and as hard as it was for him to do, he had to walk away from the pleading family members outside. Trust me when I say this , that moment will stay with this man until the day he dies. He wasn’t scared , trust me on that. This guy is as salty as they come in the fire service. Again, it’s an extremely harsh reality we (firemen) know we will face eventually. It most certainly is not something we look forward to.

All the hydrants had water . We did not tap a single hydrant that didn’t work. We had “big fire” and that requires “big water” . We didn’t have ‘big water”, but we did have water , so we did what we could do with what we had.

2 firemen were sent to the hospital. One was admitted while the other was treated and released and came straight back to the scene and continued working well into the evening. Myself and a few other firemen were on scene for a total of 15 hours, well into the early morning.

Not one fireman on that scene gave a rats ass if their picture was taken, or posted…. Any pictures you see were taken by bystanders, or media. Not one fireman on that scene thought that this was a great opportunity for some publicity

I personally lead the effort to recover the victim. I hand picked a few firemen and obtained permission from the Pa. State Police Fire Marshall on scene and the Luzerne County Coroner also on scene to start the daunting task of recovery.

Remember, this was a huge double block house that was burned and totally on the ground. We (the group involved with the recovery effort) collectively agreed on an approximate location and we went to work. We dug for over an hour all while standing on hot coles still smoldering and smoking and air temperatures well above 100°+. Not one ff stopped, not one ff ever complained that it was to hot, we just kept going until we discovered the victim.

I will not go into details from this point on, but the victim was recovered. Again, I will not go into detail, just know that team of men will never ever ever forget that task. It will stay with us until the day we die.

I’m not looking for a pat on the back. We are not looking for hero status, but maybe just a little compassion for every single person that helped that day in any way shape, or form is greatly appreciated.

The words I read posted here on Facebook about the efforts made by ff’s on scene ,or lack thereof, cut deep. They cut deep into a wound that was already deep to begin with. No amount of “I’m sorry’s” can make me unread what I read. Trust me when I say this , we (the fd) are already doing a great job of beating ourselves up. We are doing a great job of ,would have , should have , could have , this non-stop since Sunday morning. We really don’t need more of a beating . We are mentally beat down to the ground over this entire ordeal ,so please, if you have anything negative to say, keep it to yourself .

As horrible as I personally feel , I’m dam proud of every single first responder who helped out that day. Absolutely nothing was going to change the outcome , we all know this , yet we pressed on.

I know I’m not the most popular guy in the fire service, but I guarantee you, this area and surrounding areas have some of the best ff’s in the nation and those ff’s were on the scene that day giving everything they had making sure an already horrible scene didn’t get any worse and I personally thank each and every one of them and let them know it feels a lot better knowing a 2 second transmission over the radio will have them here with-in minutes of need be. .

Again, I just was wanted to move on from this whole ordeal , but after reading some of those horrible comments yesterday, I had to try to clear up a few misconceptions with the some facts.

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