Remembering John Nance LODD Columbus, Ohio 7-25-1987

Lt. John Nance, Columbus Division of Fire.  Killed July 25, 1987 while fighting a fire in the Mithoff Building at 151 N. High St.
Lt. John Nance, Columbus Division of Fire. Killed July 25, 1987 while fighting a fire in the Mithoff Building at 151 N. High St.

Today we remember the Line of Duty Death of John Nance in Columbus, Ohio 7-25-1987

On Saturday July 25, 1987 (3-Unit),F.F. John Nance was the Acting Officer on Engine No. 3. An alarm was reported at the Mithoff Building located at 151 N. High St. in downtown Columbus, OH. At 10:40 Assistant Chief Mills upgraded the assignment to a 2nd alarm. The Companies were fighting the fire with heavy smoke conditions. Firefighter Nance fell into the burning basement thought a hole burnt into the store floor. Ladders and ropes were lowered into the floor opening and many other rescue attempts were made to save John W. Nance. All proved unsuccessful. This was determined an arson fire and John’s death was ruled to be a murder.

From John’s Death comes the “Nance Drill” (See Below Story and Links)

Excerpt from “Firefighter Rescue and Survival” By: Ray Hoff and Bob Kolomay Pg: 195-198

“Firefighter rescue from a lower grade, confined area, collapse voids, where basement situation can be one of the most difficult rescue efforts to perform. As was revealed in a firefighter fatality instant in Columbus, Ohio involving fire for you John Nance, the difficulty of raising the unconscious weight of a firefighter (approximately 200 to 300 pounds) vertically is extremely difficult and dangerous to both victim and rescuers. The following case study provided humbling experience that awakens the fire service to the need for improved training firefighter rescue and survival.


Having been a firefighter for the Columbus (OH) for the department for more than 27 years, John Nance, was 51 years of age at the time and was also planning on retiring during the early months 1988. But on July 25, 1987, those plans changed forever. The 8:00 p.m. start of a 24-hour shift started as any routine shift with normally started. Station #2, when Nance was assigned, housed 16 firefighters who are assigned to Engine #2, Engine #3, Ladder #1, and Rescue #1. According to the Saturday night tradition, the cook was given a day off, and it was declared “pizza night!” Dinner arrived around 9:30 p.m., which was later than normal due to a volleyball game. At 10:10 p.m. the tones dispatched Station #2 companies to an old building downtown called the Mithoff Building at 151 North High Street. An arsonist had spread a flammable liquid in the basement and ignited a fire. John Nance, the acting lieutenant on Engine #3, along with driver Marvin Howard and firefighters Tim Cave and Don Weldon departed for the fire scene. 


Companies arrived within two minutes and saw smoke coming out of the ground floor of the four-story, 11,500 ft building. As the command post was set in the front of the fire building, the first arriving Engine forced open the glass door and advanced a hose line. As Nance positioned his company in the rear, he then reported heavy smoke coming from the first floor shoe store. As Engine #3s line was charged, Nance, Cave, and Weldon geared up to enter the rear storage room of the shoe store to search for the fire. Following Nance and Engine #3s crew were Ladder #2 and Engine #2, now totaling 10 firefighters in all. 


Within about 11 minutes the IC had requested a standby second alarm to fill the staging area with additional equipment and personnel. As the interior companies were having difficulty in locating the fire and the fire conditions were worsening, the IC then upgraded to a second alarm response. Battalion Chief Jerry Lindsay responded on the second alarm and took command of the rear sector. He noticed that the smoke was becoming thicker and was from floor to ceiling. The heavy smoke conditions and the size of the building hampered the interior companies. The firefighters in the front had poor visibility–less than the 3 ft with hand–held flashlights. SCBA cylinders now started to run low, and the heat could be felt through the floor indicating it to be a basement fire. Battalion Chief Lindsay had noted during his size–up that the fire conditions were “ominous,” giving him a very uncomfortable feeling based on his past experiences with basement fires.


Although the engine company in the front of building had located a stairway into the basement of the building, the companies in the rear of the building above the shoe store could not find anyway into the basement. Feeling heat coming up through the floor and have been used up much of their SCBA air, Nance and his crew left the building and refilled their air. Chief Lindsey stated he saw Nance and his crew start to enter the building for the second time. Lindsey stated that, “I started to talk to John, I said I wanted him to take a rope with him. I wanted him to tie off a rope, a lifeline, and take it in with him. “I remember him saying, “Can’t we just follow the hoseline in?” I replied, “No, I want you to take a rope.” Nance followed the Chiefs orders. Shortly after that, Chief Lindsay ordered several other firefighters to take power saws into the building to cut the basement floor for ventilation and to open a vantage point so as to put water on the fire. No one knows how John Nance fell into the shoe store basement, but fire department officials felt he was searching for an area to cut the floor when he fell into a section of weekend floor about 70 ft. from the back door entrance. Firefighter Wilson from Engine #10 crawled in from the front of the shoe store and had proceeded through an interior door that led into the storage room and had also fallen into a hole grabbing for any possible handhold as he went down. The heat in the hole was intense with heavy smoke and an orange glow could be seen as his legs would be burned causing him to desperately pull himself to safety. As he pulled himself out, he heard Nance screaming for help. 


Wilson had noted that the hole was about 12 ft deep. Wilson stated, “I answered him (John) and then I radioed that we had a man in the basement yelling for help.” Communications became very difficult after Wilson transmitted his request for help three times. Companies in the flower shop next to the shoe store did not realized the basement below have been divided into two separate rooms thereby making it making accessibility to Nance impossible. By this time, Wilson‘s air had begun to run out.


At this point Tim Cave left his hoseline and came to the hole with the light. According to Cave, “I found the hole and my arm went down. I asked John if he could see my light. He replied in a very calm manner that he could see it, like he was just standing there waiting for me to get him out of there.” At this point, a very important lesson in firefighter rescue was learned as firefighter Cave extended his hand to grasp the hand of trapped firefighter Nance. Cave asked Nance ”Can you reach my hand?” Cave noticed that as Nance reached up to grab his hand, he must have been standing on some stock because the basement was deep. Attempting to pull Nance out, Cave realized that he was slipping into the same hole. At that point Cave told Nance, “I can’t pull you out.” Nance calmly replied, “Ok, give me my hand back.”


Inside the building things became confused as the fire conditions became increasingly worse and the other firefighters learned that a firefighter was trapped. Rescue attempts by other firefighters who had reached the whole them commenced. The first strategy was to run a hoseline to provide protection and cooling for Nance, but the hose would not reach and had to be extended. Next, after finding the rope that Nance brought into the building, the rescuers decided to lower it into the whole to pull Nance out. Once Nance grabbed the rope, with the help of three rescuers he was pulled up to within 3 ft. of the whole, but then slipped, falling back into the basement. Realizing the amount of weight that had to be hoisted up, an additional call for help around the hole was made. A second rope rescue was then attempted by tying a bowline loop in the line to give Nance a better grip on the rope. Once the rope was lowered, Nance tied two more additional knots in the rope himself. However, even with two additional firefighters on the rope, the rescue attempt still failed as Nance had fallen off the rope when he was only about halfway up.


Nance was becoming exhausted and low on SCBA air. The suggestion to send a ladder into the basement through the hole was announced. Nance was in full agreement with this suggestion as many ladders were moved into the area of the hole. One of the ladders was lowered into the hole only to find that the hole was too small to allow a firefighter to fit through it with the ladder in place. Once the ladder was pulled out of the hole, rescuers worked desperately to enlarge the hole. In the meantime, the fire conditions were quickly worsening throughout the building as well as around the hole. The heat coming from the hole is becoming more intense, and Nance was running out of air, as several firefighters heard him say, “I need air.” 


While the hole was being opened up and the ladder was being positioned back into the hole, and air bottle was lowered into the basement. Nance then started to climb up to the hole. Unfortunately, he proceeded up the underside of the ladder which resulted in him striking his head several times on the floor joists. As a rescuer reached in and around the ladder while fighting the extreme heat venting out of the hole, he tried to pull Nance around to make it through the whole. After repeated efforts, Nance suddenly fell again to the floor. Heat and smoke levels around the whole we’re becoming intolerable and some visible fire was apparent. Firefighter Wiley attempted another rescue effort by entering the hole, but the hole was still not large enough for him to fit through. After entering the hole, the hole was enlarged again. Entering the hole again, and taking the hoseline with attempting to knock fire back as he descended, he found an unconscious Nance  at the bottom of the ladder. Wiley fought back the fire and grabbed Nance with one hand dragging him with the idea of trying to lift him up the ladder. The heat conditions, the spread of fire, and Nance’s weight would not allow Wiley to rescue him from the basement.


Totally exhausted and almost out of SCBA air, Wiley had to get out and allow another rescuer a chance. Firefighter Brining attempted the same type of rescue. Once in the basement, he discovered that Nance’s low air SCBA alarm had quit ringing and that he could not find him in the heavy smoke. Brining also had to leave the basement for the same reasons, still without Nance. At this point, Battalion Chief Lindsay approved one last interior attempt for a rescue. However, fire was showing out of the upper floors and the fire conditions had severely changed.


Consequently, all personnel were then ordered out of the building. The fire had gone to the four alarms and was finally contained 5:07 a.m.  the next day. Nance’s body was removed from the building Sunday afternoon. The Franklin County corners office determine the John Nance died of asphyxiation with a Carbon Monoxide level of 64.7%, whereas 6% is enough to cause death. We cannot say for sure what the outcome would have been if the rescuers had been aware of the Handcuff Knot rescue, but perhaps John Nance may still have been able to retire in 1988 as he originally planned.”
Pain of that Terrible Night Remains for Firefighters

The Murder of John Nance

Training Days- John Nance Drill

What Happened to John Nance?

Clock Ticking in 28-Year-old Fatal Arson Case HERE

Nance Drill  never_in_vain_0725_154

The Murder of FF John Nance PPT

Firefighter Survival and Rescue PPT Sec09_FFRescue

Reading this information is NOT ENOUGH, Please go out and do the Nance Drill and do some RIT evolution’s today, that is the ONLY way we can truly honor John Nance

Thanks for Taking the Time, Ethan Bansek



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