You Really Just Never Know

There are no firefighter line-of-duty deaths in this country that I am not aware of or involved with, one way or the other. Be it through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety...


There are no firefighter line-of-duty deaths in this country that I am not aware of or involved with, one way or the other. Be it through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety, Health and Survival Section, the National...


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There are no firefighter line-of-duty deaths in this country that I am not aware of or involved with, one way or the other. Be it through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety, Health and Survival Section, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or by other means, such as this column or even through FireFighterCloseCalls.com or Firefighternearmiss.com, I am privileged to help out. And while close calls and near-miss events can only be tracked as reported, the line-of-duty deaths are all tracked by various, coordinated means.

In most cases, while all line-of-duty deaths are tragic, once in a while, one shakes me and reminds me that we simply never really know fully what we are getting into. I don't care if you are a brand-new probie, a senior member or a chief, it's the combination of experience and training — never-ending training — that keeps us as sharp as possible. And training — especially in these zero-budget days — does not have to cost a lot of money, or any money at all. There are numerous free resources and opportunities to get practical training right in your firehouse.

One aspect of training is learning to be prepared and doing our best to "expect the unexpected." In many, many cases related to firefighter line-of-duty deaths as well as significant close calls, the end result was predictable if training had been conducted and applied and if policies had been followed or enforced. That is the case, most of the time.

Our sincere appreciation to the members of the St. Anna, WI, Fire Department and Chief Robert Thone, Assistant Chief Adam Schuh as well as the members of the Lewisville, TX, Fire Department and Chief Rick Lasky and Firefighter Brandon Thetford for their assistance with this month's Close Calls column.

The "shaking" event I am talking about is the recent line-of-duty death of 15-year veteran Firefighter Steve "Peanut" Koeser of the St. Anna Fire Department while operating at a dumpster fire. Eight other firefighters were injured. The St. Anna Fire Department is an all-volunteer department with 25 members with an excellent reputation for professional service to their community.

Dumpster Explodes

St. Anna firefighters responded to the scene of that dumpster fire at Bremer Manufacturing in St. Anna after a police officer on patrol noticed a fire around 7:20 P.M. on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009. The dispatcher advised responding members that the dumpster contained metal shavings. The firefighters arrived and had bluish-green flames out the top and a "very hot" burning glow on the side of the dumpster. The members stretched a line, flowed water for a while and, after limited progress, flowed foam.

A few minutes after they flowed the foam, the dumpster exploded with such force that it was literally blown apart. It should be noted that the firefighters initially pulled a 1¾-inch line, flowed about 600 gallons of water with no problem, other than limited fire knockdown, then they switched to foam due to little progress on the fire, and they then increased it up to 3%. About 100 gallons of foam had flowed when the explosion suddenly occurred. The entire event happened within 10 minutes of arrival. In the news media, the Calumet County sheriff described the scene that Tuesday night as, "A routine fire call, I guess you could call it, which turned deadly."

There are no "routine responses." Ever.

Firefighter Koeser tragically died in the line of duty from blunt-force trauma at the scene and eight other firefighters were injured. Koeser was pulling a second hoseline, was fully geared with personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) when the explosion occurred. Investigators said it appears aluminum shavings, floor sweepings and several 55-gallon drums of slag (impurities and byproducts of aluminum castings) were burning in the eight-by-six-by-12-foot dumpster. When water was added, the fire appeared to be just a stubborn dumpster fire. The decision was made to flow foam, to get at the seat of the fire, and shortly after that, the explosion occurred. Firefighter Koeser leaves behind a long-time girlfriend, a daughter, two brothers and a sister-in-law who work at Bremer and, of course, the St. Anna firefighters. The state fire marshal, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and NIOSH continue to investigate.

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