March 26, 2021 01:35
**The following Incident is being presented in a different format than usual. This story is unique and special to us at Portland Fire and Rescue and its being told from the perspective of a professional firefighter not a professional writer. It’s also important to note that this incident happened outside of the City of Portland and we would like to recognize the men and women of Gresham Fire Department and Gresham Police Department for their quick and professional response on March 18th. We are very proud to be your public safety partner.**
On the morning of March 18, 2021 PF&R firefighter Kevin Dolphin was on his way to work at Station 7 in SE Portland. Before he heads into the station he stops by his parent’s house to drop off Taylor, his dog. A routine stop on his way to a 24 hour shift. Before he makes it there, Kevin hears a familiar ring from his phone. His Pulse Point App (third party app that notifies people in the immediate area of a medical or fire emergency) was alerting him to a house fire nearby. When he looks in the direction of the address indicated on the app, he describes seeing “a large glow and a good size header”. A “header” is a column of smoke that indicates a significant fire.
Kevin describes this scenario as we sit, COVID appropriate masks over our faces, in the office area of PF&R Station 7. It wasn’t easy getting him to sit and talk about the incident. Kevin has 7 years with PF&R and he commented that it’s “not my place to talk about this like I did something great”. It’s the kind of humble reaction we would expect from a firefighter here at Station 7. Rescuing people from fires is not uncommon here. This station is busy and, unfortunately, they see a great deal of tragedy.
Firefighter Dolphin continues to give a play-by-play as we watch clips of the body cam footage provided by Gresham Police Department. Gresham Police Officer Tim Tacca had arrived before Firefighter Dolphin. The body-cam on his ballistic vest captured the entire event.
The footage shows Officer Tacca race to the scene and within seconds he discovers one elderly occupant of a large home on NE Interlauchen in Fairview, Oregon -standing on a balcony. The footage is tense. A bright glow of flames at the far end of the home. Front-and-center is a stranded person on a balcony, smoke billowing around them. Firefighter Dolphin arrives, he’s dressed in running pants and a sweatshirt. Not the heavily insulated and flame resistant No-Mex material in his firefighter gear, waiting for him at Station 7. Most importantly, he has no air tank and mask to breathe from.
Kevin appears and sounds calm as he obtains critical information from the elderly person stranded on the balcony. The first action he takes is to locate an aluminum ladder that he places quickly at the balcony railing. He and Officer Tacca climb up it and onto the balcony. Kevin asks a few important questions about the exact location of the occupants husband who is apparently still stuck inside. As we watch on the footage, Kevin gets low to the ground and takes a couple of deep breaths before he charges into a thick cloud of smoke that is banked almost all the way to the floor. I count 3-4 of these attempts by Kevin. Each into an increasingly ominous black smoke cloud. I can’t help but feel a mixture of pride and astonishment that a young man with 7 years on the job has this much courage, this much selflessness. Kevin knows what thousands of firefighters do. He is crawling through a thick cloud of toxic, heated smoke with zero visibility. If he becomes disoriented, he will only have seconds to escape. “I kept track of the wall by sliding my foot along it and then when I searched a room I hooked my foot to the doorway”, he does this because he knows under these conditions he can only hold his breath for so long. If he doesn’t quickly retreat before this time is up, or if he loses track of that wall, this breath could be his last.
Breathing apparatus specifically designed for and used by firefighters around the world would give him 20-30min to operate in this atmosphere. That luxury is not available in this situation, but like he was told by his trainers 7 years ago.. “risk a-lot to save a-lot”. A mantra that is baked into the hearts and minds of every recruit in the fire academy at PF&R.
As the first units of Gresham Fire arrive, Kevin decides it’s time to get the occupant on the balcony down to safety and make room for Gresham firefighters, with proper protective gear and search equipment, to attempt to rescue the occupant still trapped inside. Despite a valiant effort by those firefighters, the second elderly occupant died in the fire. Understandably, this reality did not sit well with them or Firefighter Dolphin.
I thanked Kevin for the courage he displayed not only that morning of the fire but also for the courage to re-tell it and allow it to be shared. Despite what many may think, this is not an easy part of the job; to relive someone else’s tragedy, someone else’s loss.
**Special note to our media partners: The video recorded interview was conducted for internal use. A short clip with sound along with a few minutes of B-roll with no sound, for use in your media story package, can be found below. By request, no additional interviews will be considered. Follow up information can be requested by email at email@example.com.