Cornell Firefighter Justin Fredrickson. Image courtesy Cornell Area Fire Dept.

While ammunition exploding in the heat of a fire generally poses little to no risk to bystanders or firefighters, loaded firearms do. Case in point…a firearm that cooked off during recent house fire ground in Willard, Wisconsin, critically injured a firefighter.

Justin Fredrickson, 35, has undergone multiple surgeries, but is expected to recover from the harrowing experience.

From madison.com . . .

Justin Fredrickson was extinguishing a house fire near Sheldon on Feb. 19 when he suddenly felt a pain in his stomach, according to Cornell Area Fire Chief Dennis Klass.

“He was spraying water and he felt like he was hit in the stomach by a two-by-four,” Klass said Wednesday.

Fredrickson, 35, was wearing full turnout gear. He started to remove the clothing, to discover he had been shot in his lower stomach. Because of the gear, there wasn’t much blood visible.

Apparently, a loaded .38-caliber pistol within the house had fired, although no one was inside the structure. The gun had become so hot due to conditions from the blaze it began to fire rounds.

“There were four, five rounds that were fired,” Klass said. The bullets traveled through an exterior wall, including the one that struck Fredrickson. “This is just a freak accident. It could have happened to anybody.”

Fortunately, it appears that Fredrickson will recover.

cornell firefighter shot fredrickson gun
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This story should provides an argument for the NRA’s Three Gun Safety Rules.

#1: ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

#2: ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

#3: ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Many of us consider keeping a loaded firearm accessible in case of an emergency is “in use.” This incident should provide a reason why we shouldn’t store our guns with a round in the chamber unless there’s a good reason for it.

After all, it’s in poor taste to have your guns cook off and wound the very people trying to save your life, your home and your possessions.

58 COMMENTS

  1. Sad story, and kind of a freak accident. Depending on the circumstances you might be able to say the homeowner was negligent, but if this was a “nightstand” gun that got left when trying to evacuate the family, I’d be hard to blame. Depending again on circumstances, it could also have shifted around in the fire if it started in a nominally safe direction.

    I presume it will be used by the antis to push more “safe storage” laws.

    • a priest, a rabbit and an imam walk into a bar. barkeep asks the rabbit, “what’ll you have?” the rabbit replies, “i have no idea. i’m only here because of autocorrect.”

      oh, and this: camel’s have two humps, dromedary’s have one. those with none are called humphrey.

      i’d like a cheese grater.
      than what?

  2. Hmmm… I keep the rifles, shotguns and semi-autos in condition 3 but the revolvers loaded except the SAA that’s not drop safe. I wonder if the 180gr hollow points in the .44 mag could penetrate the safe walls.

    The firefighter is lucky it was a .38 (.380?) and not a .30-06.

  3. Not sure what to make of this.

    Understand that a round fitted into a chamber might cook off, send the bullet down the barrel (in whatever direction the barrel is pointed), and rotating IAW the rifling. This would be the same as an intentional discharge. However….

    Cartridges in a revolver will not have directional sustainability, or the velocity of a bullet through a barrel (essentially, a cartridge lying loose on the ground). If the bullets were fired from a semi-auto firearm, that would require full cycling of the slide, multiple times, likely in random directions. Those rounds, fired through the barrel probably can penetrate walls. But loose rounds?

    • I came to say the same thing: something in that story does not add up.

      A .38 caliber revolver can only cook-off ONE bullet through its barrel — e.g. with enough velocity to penetrate drywall and injure/kill a human. The other cartridges in the other chambers of the cylinder will not fire their bullets anywhere because they are not aligned with the barrel until someone spins the cylinder and aligns it with the barrel.

      Even a semi-auto handgun chambered in .380 ACP should not be able to discharge more than once with enough velocity to penetrate drywall and injure/kill a human. With no person holding the pistol grip, the slide would not cycle properly and the second cartridge would not load into the chamber. (If a human holding a semi-auto handgun with a weak grip — “limp wristing” — causes semi-auto handguns to fail to cycle properly, certainly a handgun with no one holding it cannot possibly cycle properly.)

      • When the powder starts burning, it builds pressure until it exceeds the weakest point and escapes. For a loose round tossed into a fire, that weak point will be the side of the case, which will pop like a balloon with pressure released in all directions. The bullet with the neck attached will be sitting in the fire. Little pieces of brass shrapnel flying around could cut skin or injure eyes, so it’s not a smart thing to do, but it’s unlikely to cause deadly injuries.
        Once the round is the chamber, the steel of the chamber supports the case. The weak point becomes the bullet pushed out of the neck. The bullet leaves the neck of all chambers at the same velocity. The difference is that the ones not aligned with the barrel have a 0″ barrel and won’t have spin imparted. There’s still enough velocity to do damage. The 6 o’clock chamber will be blocked and possibly tear apart the gun, but the other chamber may allow unimpeded flight, depending on design.

        • Anymouse,

          “The bullet leaves the neck of all chambers at the same velocity.”

          Yes, and that is WAY lower than muzzle velocity.

          The propellant in a cartridge does not burn and produce final pressure instantaneously. Rather, the propellant continues to burn and produce ever greater pressure as a bullet moves down the barrel. That ever increasing pressure and ever increasing time of pressure pushing the bullets produces a much higher muzzle velocity than the velocity at the neck of the chamber.

          Remember, that pressure in the barrel is a force pushing on the bullet which continues to accelerate the bullet (overcoming the bullet’s inertia) the entire time that the bullet is in the barrel — because the pressure is pushing (accelerating) the bullet that entire time. That is why handguns with longer barrels produce greater muzzle velocities than handguns with shorter barrels (for a given cartridge/load).

          I do not know the exact velocity that is typical of a bullet fired from a cylinder only — I cannot imagine it being much more than 300 or 400 feet-per-second. Is that enough velocity to penetrate a fireman’s protective equipment? Who knows. Even if the bullet did manage to penetrate the fireman’s protective equipment, I cannot picture it having enough residual velocity to do any life-threatening damage.

    • I suspect bullshit. .38 indicates a revolver, although not conclusively. One round down the barrel, assuming it is the first one to cook off, since most of the time any other rounds in the cylinder will not escape the cylinder due to blockages, resulting in the destruction of the entire cylinder and additional cartridges. This should not have been even reported this way unless the bullet which struck the firefighter had been ballistically matched to a barrel in the house. My guess would be that out of every 100 million cartridges which cook off in a fire, someone might be injured once. Maybe.

      • I have both single action and double action revolvers.
        In the DA revolvers, four of the six chambers have no (or very little) obstructions. One has the barrel, and the other has the frame as an obstruction.
        In the SA revolvers, three chambers have no obstructions, and one has an ejection rod, spring, and housing in the way. (Well, one of my SA revolvers has no such obstruction, having a barrel too short to hang an ejector rod housing on.) One chamber has the barrel, and the last has the frame in the way.
        So, no, revolvers do not obstruct all the other rounds except the one lined up to the barrel as you say.
        Whether the unobstructed rounds could fire with any actual damaging velocity (or just how much velocity), I don’t know.

  4. This is exactly why the Rule in my household is if the house is on fire…Run fast Run far and don’t let anyone near it without being warned of the possible consequences. Many of the firearms within it are loaded Hot as well as other potentially hazard objects.

  5. What about hide away guns or guns in single lockboxes? I keep a loaded gun bedside in a quick open lockbox. It is pointed down though. I also have one in my safe that is pointed down but one would hope that the temperature in the safe does not go that high in a “fire” safe.

    • I pretty much demand to know the exact firearm and ammo types that were involved so this can be independently verified.

  6. Fire sucks. 23 February 2019 my burrow burnt . Luckily I do not believe in keeping all my eggs in one basket so a portion of my firegunms I still have. I’m finally getting my firegunm inventory back up to snuff. All of my photographs were destroyed and can never be replaced. I was quite the nature photographer and had many unique photos along with the family photos , all gone. Pity that.
    Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes , floods leave remnants. A fire takes it all.
    Your life is a fire waiting to happen, live it to its fullest.

  7. This is a complete Bullshit story….A .38 probably means a revolver & there could only be 1 rd facing the barrel to go thru, the rest would go off in the cylinder. Without the barrel there is no pressure to send the bullet into full “attack” mode!

    • Yeah, I declare total bullshit on this whole story…. a revolver could possibly loose one round on a cook-off, if the lead in the bullet didn’t melt first, then no way it would fire anything else projectially after that. A pistol could possibly fire one round, although the high heat imparted would distort the components and clearances ,rendering the gun inoperable for any successive shots, and wouldn’t cycle anyway without the frame being held stationary (Newton’s law at work)… the whole tale doesn’t hold water, and I’m guessing we will never hear the real story… probably right-wing white supremacists staged the whole thing… they’re responsible for everything these days!!

      • You’d likely get 3 bullets with velocity enough to do damage. The one aligned with the barrel, obviously and the ones at about 8 and 4 o’clock if you were giving your revolver the “suicide stare”.

        Those other two wouldn’t have a tremendous velocity but they would still kick out with enough force to ruin your day.

        The other three will explode inside the cylinder and frame.

        On a j-frame all the other 4 should just explode into the frame.

      • ….. ” there were 4 or 5 bullets that penetrated an exterior wall, including the one that hit the firefighter “….. Yeah, no. Still calling bullshit on this one !!!

        • I don’t know if a round in a chamber not lined up with a barrel could penetrate an outer wall (probably made up of wallboard on the inside, and plywood with some sort of sheathing on the outside) or not, if it fired.
          Do you?
          Remember, the shell casing is supported by the cylinder, so the bullet will have some velocity behind it.
          I’ve never seen any studies/experiments done on this. (That’s not to say there aren’t any, just that I haven’t seen any.)
          If you (or anyone else) has any to link to, I’d appreciate it.

  8. I’m not a carry guy, so the rule I use is never chamber a round in the house. So I have the pistol and loaded mag. stored separately in the safe.

    Obviously, a round in a chamber is a problem in a fire.

    A loose round cooking off would blow apart a 5 to 15 gram bullet and a fractional gram casing. The pressure would only stay high during the few millimeters it takes for the bullet to separate from the casing. So the bullet would not move much at all, and casing would have most of the velocity and energy, but even that would not be much.

    However, a round in a revolver cylinder not aligned with the barrel is different and worse. Now the casing is backed up by the 1.5 lb firearm, so the bullet will fly with some energy. And the bullet will need to travel many millimeters (10 – 15?) before the bullet clears the cylinder and the pressure behind the bullet drops. Sure the bullet won’t spin, but it is a random direction shot anyway.

  9. TRUTH FIRE N AMMO DON’T MIX WELL . ITS A CONCERN WITH ANY LOADED WEAPON IN A HOUSE / CAR FIRE , BAD ENOUGH IF AMMO LOOE IN CONTAINERS , METAL OR CARD BOARD , PLASTIC BUCKETS . WISH I HAD ROOM FOR LARGER SAFE TO STORE AMMO IN . MY WEAPONS ARE STORED IN A LIBERTY SAFE , COUPLE HAVE AMMO IN MAGAZINE , ONE REVOLVER LOADED . PRAY NEVER HAVE HOUSE FIRE . STAY SAFE AN ALERT YA ALL BEST CAN .

  10. Hmm.

    Somewhat misleading title.

    “Cooking off” usually refers to a self-loading rifle empties its magazine due to high chamber temperatures in absence of the trigger being pressed.

    I am guessing that a fire-induced ignition would fire many rounds simultaneously. If its hot enough in the chamber for a round to ignite, then its hot enough in the magazine.

    Any semi-auto not on my person does not have a round chambered. I do this for several reasons, but I started doing it with my truck gun in case of a vehicle fire.

    If this was a revolver, it is more akin to a “chain fire” where several chambers ignite at once. Originally a problem with cap and ball revolvers where the chambers were not properly sealed, firing one chamber could ignite several. I am sure it would be exciting……in a bad way.

    But most revolvers always have “one in the chamber” unless it’s a single action with no transfer bar. Is Boch saying we should keep our revolvers unloaded?

    While the round in line with the barrel would produce normal velocity, I imagine the rounds in adjacent chambers would be pretty feeble. Additionally, those round would most likely contact with frame on exiting. Especially the on at the bottom of the cylinder.

    I have a friend who was a firefighter for 10 years. He was much more worried about aerosol cans in the kitchen, garage, and bathroom than guns. They ignite and rain down like napalm. Even more troublesome were Mapp gas cylinders which really are like napalm.

    Unfortunate situation, but I’m not changing my storage practices based on the potential of a house fire. If I’m there , I will tell the firefighters where the ammo and powder are stored. The loaded guns are pointed at the ceiling or into a safe or books.

  11. as A ex volunteer firefighter, I know it can and will happen fact is we had a firefighter killed by a 22 rifle going off in a fire just a problem you have to allow for me I have a couple of handguns loaded in the house, and in safe and long guns but long ones are all pointed up and handguns are overhead high to people outside and most ammo is in another building

  12. Who knows if the report is even correct? A 9mm is the same diameter as a .357/.38 round, and “journalists” care more about being first than being accurate. Was the gun that allegedly launched the bullet found or is it assumed that the dweller’s own gun did the launching? This does make me consider keeping only one gun loaded at home and to keep it oriented in a way that would do the least damage. I try to be proactive but honestly hadn’t considered the gun actually firing itself.

  13. “probably right-wing white supremacists staged the whole thing… ”

    No. No way. Not never.

    It is members of the alt-right, neo-nazi, radical conservative, oath keeping, fascist white, aryan, great right-wing conspirators who cause all the social unrest. That’s who needs to be declared, and treated as, non-persons – outlaws (outside the law, lacking any legal status; shoot on sight).

  14. #3: ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

    The NRA is clear on this: it does not apply to your self defense firearm(s).

    • Actually, it does not apply to *any* of my firearms. Unless I so decide. Contrary to some belief, the NRA is not a cult, and does not carry the force of god with me.

  15. I’m sure that they heard 4 or 5 rounds pop from the heat… while only one actually was fired through the muzzle…. the one that hit the firefighter. freak accident but as others pointed out, no chance they were all fired at the firefighter unless someone pulled the trigger.

  16. Sad to hear.

    Even sadder is the FUDD who is telling me how and where to keep my guns at home in case some freak accident occurs. Mind your business elmer…

  17. Sorry, but the odds of me needing a loaded self defense weapon is far greater than the odds of me having a house fire and a cookoff hitting a fireman. They’re staying loaded.

  18. “You keep forgetting that “/sarc” tag.”

    But, if I have to explain the joke, it wasn’t funny to begin with.

  19. “I’ve never seen any studies/experiments done on this. (That’s not to say there aren’t any, just that I haven’t seen any.)
    If you (or anyone else) has any to link to, I’d appreciate it.”

    My bad; should have included these links (at least) with the original comment:
    https://www.bevfitchett.us/gunshot-wounds/behavior-of-ammunition-and-gunpowder-in-fires.html

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SlOXowwC4c

    https://bulletin.accurateshooter.com/2012/11/how-ammunition-reacts-in-a-fire-saami-video-report/

  20. “Many of us consider keeping a loaded firearm accessible in case of an emergency is “in use.” This incident should provide a reason why we shouldn’t store our guns with a round in the chamber unless there’s a good reason for it.”

    We’ve got plenty of good reasons to store a few loaded these days. Fires are rare and having one pop off and actually hit a person in a fire is pretty rare too. Any risk of this happening is negated by the necessity to have self defense ready at all times.

    • you are going to give 650 displacement envy.
      just remember, you may have a drain plug by the front bevels… he does.

  21. Freak accidents are just that. I do not subscribe at all to “rule 3” above. If my gun, due to some strange occurrence, (fire, lighting strike, alien invasion) goes off and hits someone. My lawyers will just have to get a check.

  22. I sleep well knowing that there are at least four loaded pistols within six feet of my bed. All have a round in the chamber.

  23. The cylinder did not allow the brass to expand, thus they had more pressure than brass not contained.
    If non contained brass would send projectiles through sheet-rock, surely those contained in revolver cylinder would do more damage…time to test. Those fighting a fire have a right to know if firearms are loaded and chambered inside and what kind of firearm…
    If the brass is not permitted to expand were it sits, it is dangerous.
    Sounds like we have to secure load firearms with barrel down…

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