Menlo Park Firefighter recovering after fall through roof during house fire

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A Menlo Park Fire Captain sustained moderate burns in a house fire after the roof he was standing on gave out as the attic burned beneath him, late Friday.

The Fire Captain, a seasoned veteran with the Fire District, had just guided a Probationary Firefighter as he cut a square ventilation hole in the roof of the residence, located on Nassau Drive near the Menlo Park-Atherton border.

The Captain stepped across the top ridge of the building's roof holding a pole he was using to check the structural integrity of the roof when he felt the area under him get "spongy."

He quickly advised Probationary Firefighter Carlos Carpenter to immediately get off the roof, when without warning, the roof gave way.

The Fire Captain fell into the burning structure up to his armpits, essentially being pinned into place.

Probationary Firefighter Carpenter immediately grabbed the shoulder straps of the Captain's Air Pak, and pulled him out of the hole.

The Fire Captain suffered significant burns to one hand, and moderate burns to his other. 

He and the Probationary Firefighter decided to cut one more ventilation hole into the roof, in order to complete their mission, before they were able to get off of the building.

Once on the ground, the Fire Captain was transported by AMR Ambulance to the Emergency Room at Stanford Hospital.

He was released from the hospital Saturday morning, but will be off for an unspecified period while he regains full use of both hands. Next week he will see a burn specialist for his injuries.

The Fire District announced they've opened a "close call" investigation into this incident, given things could have gone much worse.

Fire officials aren't sure what caused Friday night's fire, which was reported at 11:25 PM and under control by 11:55 PM. Damage to the home is estimated at $100,000, and currently is uninhabitable.

Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said "fire ground roof ventilation operations are inherently dangerous but necessary. We feel very fortunate that the Captain's injuries were not more serious, given what occurred. Probationary Firefighter Carpenter distinguished himself last night, making all of us very proud and grateful for his quick action. It’s not lost on any of us that this call could have had a much worse outcome.”

The Menlo Park Fire District was recently authorized by the FAA to use its fleet of high-tech drones at night, but none of their operators were available during the time of the fire. A drone was used today (Saturday), to document and provide aerial photography of the roof area.

“It will be interesting in the future, as we get more drone pilots trained up, to see if we can identify, through thermal imaging, if we could have avoided this type of problems through better situational awareness and real time heat sensors,” the Fire Chief said.

A family of four living at the residence all evacuated on their own, and no one other than the Fire Captain was injured.