Firefighters Rescue Female Trapped in Burning Van Nuys Apartment

Saturday, March 03, 2012 |

VAN NUYS - Just before 5:00 AM on Saturday March, 3rd, 2012, Los Angeles Firefighters rescued a 19 year-old female trapped in a bathroom, inside her burning apartment.

Firefighters rushed with lights and sirens to 15440 West Sherman Way, where they found a large three-story apartment building with smoke beginning to pour out from one unit on the second floor.

Meanwhile a young college student, who described herself as a, "deep sleeper", curtly awoke to the sound of smoke alarms echoing, alerting her of a fire. When she instinctively opened her bedroom door to the living room, she said it was, "ablaze". Using her cell phone, she immediately dialed 9-1-1. The call was received at LAFD's new Metro Fire Communications, where a scared woman was heard stating, "smoke is flooding my bedroom and I can't get out!" After determining her address, where she was inside the residence, and that she was unable to get to a window, the 9-1-1 Firefighter/Dispatcher instructed her to close the door, and get away from the fire. Over the next few minutes, life saving advice was provided.

Unable to escape, it was determined that a bathroom connected to her bedroom was the safest place to find shelter. As heavy black smoke rapidly crept in, she was instructed to place wet towels around the door and in the cracks to diminish it's deadly threat. Shortly thereafter, through sporadic coughing, and smoke stung eyes, she confided in the dispatcher, "Oh my God, I'm terrified". The dispatcher reassured her that firefighters were outside and running to her apartment, then stated, "I'm going to stay on the phone with you until they find you." She was then instructed to place a wet towel over her nose and face to filter smoke and lay flat on the ground to find clean air.
Concurrently, firefighters rushing to her aid were notified exactly where the trapped victim was located, expediting her rescue. A "drop bag" operation was swiftly executed to bring hose-lines to the second story. Firefighters then broke through the front door, battled intense flames and performed an immediate search of the 1,000 square-foot apartment, and rescued the woman in a matter of minutes. She stated, "They were wearing masks and had flashlights. It was like a movie."

She was safely rushed outside and compassionately treated by LAFD Firefighter/Paramedics, then transported to Valley Presbyterian Hospital as a precaution. Later that day she was without injury or medical complaint and stated, "I'm so happy to be alive".

Under the command of Battalion Chief Hayden, 75 firefighters fully extinguished the blaze in just 22 minutes. The bulk of the fire was in the living room and kitchen.

The cause of this early morning blaze, is undetermined, possibly electrical in nature. The dollar loss is estimated at $40,000 ($20,000 structure and $15,000 contents).

Due to the amount smoke and fire, the woman would not have survived if it were not for three important things:
  1. Functional smoke alarms providing early fire detection, and time to call 9-1-1.
  2. Listening to the 9-1-1 Firefighter/Dispatcher's lifesaving instructions.
  3. The outstanding work of trained Los Angeles firefighters.
This brave young woman's first name is, Blessing.

Submitted by Erik Scott, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department


Anonymous said...

Great job LAFD! This Apt complex should be inspected by the State. This is not the 1st fire. Since it may have been an electrical fire, it may be the electrical outlets are shorted.

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Anonymous 10:04,

Thank you for the kind words. While your LAFD has performed numerous inspections of that apartment building since it was constructed in 1967, a typical 'Fire Code' inspection of a large apartment building is not able to include detailed [emphasis] inspection of every electrical outlet.

While we are not aware (at the moment) of the trend you suspect, we actively encourage you to relay *detailed information* directly to the City of Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) by clicking here.

It is indeed the LAHD that is responsible for investigating code violations related to rental properties within the City of Los Angeles containing more than one dwelling unit, such as duplexes, apartment buildings or more than one single family dwelling on a property.

We hope this information helps.

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Hi Firefighter Scott,

Wow, what a compelling story! I so appreciate the time you took to report it, especially the level of detail that you provided. It is so important for the public to hear this type of story, and to realize the exceptional teamwork that was required to save this woman’s life. It is equally important, in my opinion, for Department members to recognize, “own,” and value the service they provide – not just in this case, but every day. Hopefully we will see many more stories on the Department blog that demonstrate the many ways in which the LAFD provides value to the City of Los Angeles. Great job!




Had to share your press release with our readers:

compelling story well written.



This is a great explanation of a near tragic incident. Information like you provided to the public is so important in supporting fire service operations and supporting budgets always under attack.

I am very proud of your work and think it should be a media press release model. All of the LAFD players who helped with this incident did so well! Thank you very much for sharing.


Thank you all for taking the time to pay such a compliment to your Los Angeles Fire Department. Coming from individuals with such diverse backgrounds and over decades of experience, that means a lot.

We agree! This was an all around remarkable save, with timely teachable lessons. We could not be more proud to speak about the amazing job our firefighters do on a daily basis. We have a thin, but excellent staff and if we can save one life from telling this story then we were successful. LAFD thanks you all for the continued support.

Have a wonderful & safe day!


Erik Scott
Firefighter/Paramedic, Spokesman
C-Shift Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

Anonymous said...

Fantastic report guys. And kudos to all--from a variety of departments and agencies--for a happy outcome in what could well have been a tragedy.

Also...congrats on being VOTED THE #1 BLOG FOR 2011 by the prestigious International Association of Fire Fighters! Strong work guys!

Anonymous said...

I'd heard as a child about the wet towel over your nose/mouth, but as an adult I'd heard that that was ill-advised because the intense heat could turn to super-heated steam while breathing and burn the lungs.

Can you provide the latest guidance on that?

Anonymous said...

To the 3/6 post: A wet cloth will help filter out the smoke particulates. As long as there is oxygen left in the air this will definitely help If the air is hot enough to create steam in a rag, the human would not have to worry about this since death from burns would occur before steam occurs at 212 degrees Farenheit. Skin burns start to occur at approx. 130-140 degrees.

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome article. The team (the trapped person, dispatcher, and firefighters)came together perfectly. I'm in Fire Prevention and this is what we try to get across to the public. The three important things above are paramount for increasing odds for survival should a fire occur. Having a fire plan that includes two ways out AND what to do if you can't, can help prevent panic and may save lives as this situation proves.
I would like to use this in our fire safety programs. Is there a copy of, or access to, a recording of the 911 call?

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