[cifnmedia] Illinois Church Backdraft Named Largest Ever Documented

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2004 13:08:33 -0800 (PST)

Illinois Church Backdraft Named Largest Ever Documented

Firehouse.Com News

The backdraft that blew apart a Sycamore, Illinois church earlier this month 
has been named the largest backdraft ever documented in the U.S. and will 
become a national case study, local fire and ATF officials said. 

The backdraft blew the roof off the St. John’s Lutheran Church on February 
9th and knocked flat the eight firefighters on scene, who thought they were 
responding to a simple rekindle from a fire the day before. 

Two firefighters were injured, including one who nearly lost his leg due to a 
severed artery. That firefighter was released from the hospital this Friday and 
is expected to make a full recovery after a long rehabilitation process. "We 
gave him a little party and left him to his wife who missed him terribly," said 
Lt. Duane Prather. 

Sycamore Fire Chief Bill Riddle said the backdraft took everyone on scene by 

"I had never seen a building blow up like that, and it's something that's not 
real common in our business," he said. 

Riddle said the reason the massive backdraft will make such an excellent case 
study is because it was unusually well documented. Local citzens came forward 
to help investigators with photos and video from several angles, showing almost 
the entire incident as it unfolded. 

Riddle said church employees worked at the building all day on the day of the 
backdraft, and the last person left at 4:15 p.m. When firefighters pulled up a 
little after 5 p.m. to investigate a report of light smoke, they saw no signs 
of trouble. 

The firefighters determined it was too hot and smokey to enter the church 
basement, so they opened the ground level windows and put in a third alarm, 
Riddle said. 

The door to the basement felt cold but suddenly blew out when the backdraft 
occurred. A firefighter who had felt the door suffered burns to his hand 
because he had taken his glove off. Another firefighter was blown out of the 
cab of the engine, and another was blown across an alley. 

The firefighter who suffered the severed artery was injured when he fell from a 
ladder and was struck by debris. He was flown to to the hospital for immediate 
surgery, and was within 10 to 12 minutes of losing his leg, Riddle said. "We 
had a tragedy but it could have been a catastrophe," he said. 

Riddle had been in his command vehicle when the backdraft occurred. "I heard 
the noise and I looked up... this piece of roof was just being removed - it 
went up about 10 feet and then came back down," he said. 

There was no warning except that immediately before he blast, "The guys on the 
scene said they heard a sucking sound," Riddle said. 

He said it was a miracle the roof debris didn't strike any of the bystanders on 
the lawn. 

The two injured firefighters were removed from the scene and the fire crews 
went into defensive attack. "By that time the church was gone," Riddle said. 
They went to a fourth alarm and had 63 firefighters from 11 departments on 
scene. In the end, the church's walls were left standing but the structure will 
be unsalvageable. 

Riddle said the ATF coordinated the follow up investigation and determined its 
status as a case study. 

The large church, built in 1937, measures 150 feet by 160 feet and is made of 
stone, plaster, terra cotta tile, heavy timber, and stained glass windows with 
Lexan. "There was nowhere for the heat to go," Riddle said. 

The sanctuary where the backdraft occurred was located below the main church 
area and measured 80 by 150 feet. The church also had voids where heat built 
up, including a crawl space and cold air returns. 

"Every town in America has a couple of these. I think it's another fire waiting 
to happen," Riddle said. 

The chief said there are certainly lessons to be learned from this incident. 
One, he said, is to beware of tunnel vision when going back to a call for a 
rekindle. "Firefighters tend to be even more aggressive and take chances they 
wouldn't normally," Riddle said. 

He said the incident was also a reminder of how vastly different commercial and 
industrial fires are from home fires, and how fast things can go bad. "This 
looked like a manageable job when they rolled up," he said. 

The combination fire department has 19 career firefigters and 18 paid on call 
firefighters. They serve about 12,000 people in an area of seven square miles, 
and cover 60 square miles of the surrounding rural area. They run about 1400 
calls per year. 

Like This Article? E-Mail This Story to a Friend or Co-Worker


Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network

Get email for your site ---> http://www.everyone.net

Other related posts:

  • » [cifnmedia] Illinois Church Backdraft Named Largest Ever Documented