The Grange Co-op was on fire. Steve Shafer and two other firefighters drug a hose line through an open bay door and disappeared into the thick black smoke. The thick smoke severely limited their visibility. They were feeling their way, peering through the darkness, looking for any sign of light from the flames that waited for them inside. It was all textbook so far, except for one thing, they couldn’t find the fire. They could feel the heat, there was dense smoke, but try as they might, no fire could be found.
Because he had only been on the department one year, it was Steve Shafer’s job to operate the nozzle on the 2 1/2 inch line taken into the Grange Co-Op, on South Pacific Highway, in Medford, Oregon. The Grange, as the locals called it, was a large retail store and warehouse that sold agricultural supplies.
Steve’s crew took a path that resembled the letter J. After working their way 150 feet deep into the structure, and still finding no flames, they decided to retreat back outside. In a situation such as this, firefighters are trained to follow the hose back out of the building, but Steve thought he could take a short cut across the hook of the J. So he dropped the nozzle, and headed for what he thought was the way out. He didn’t make it far. After a few moments he bumped into a wall. “Not good,” he thought to himself. He turned around and headed back in the general direction of the hose line, but somehow he missed it.
“By now I was totally disoriented,” Steve said. “I had no idea which way to go.”
He felt his way until he found a large roll up door, but it had a padlock on it. It was around this time his low-air warning-bell started ringing.
“So my low-air bell’s going off, and the roll up doors had these little narrow 4″ x 12″ windows in them,” Steve said. “I’m looking through them to the outside, but I can’t see anybody.” Continue reading