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On Friday, April 4, 2008, Captain Robin Broxterman, 37 years old and a 17-year veteran career firefighter and paramedic, and Firefighter Brian Schira, 29 years old, a six-month probationary part-time firefighter and emergency medical technician, of the Colerain Township, OH, Fire & EMS Department died in the line of duty after the floor they were on collapsed at a fire in a single-family dwelling.
Following that tragic loss, the department issued a preliminary report with initial details on what happened based on the information available at the time (for a copy of the preliminary report, please go to www.coleraintwp.org/fire.cfm). A more in-depth final report is being developed and is expected to be released in 2009 along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report.
As stated in the preliminary report, "The department will never forget the ultimate sacrifice made by Captain Robin Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira in their service to the community. By sharing the knowledge gained from this very tragic and painful incident, the department will ensure their sacrifice was not in vain and hope that other fire departments can avoid a similar tragedy" - but little did they know how directly their report would impact firefighters in less than a year; firefighters just three hours north of Colerain Township, in the City of Defiance, OH.
Each month, this column is about learning from events that could have been worse. On occasion, we look at line-of-duty deaths and what can be learned from them as well so we can avoid close calls. Every line-of-duty death has lessons learned, but the fact is that firefighters and officers must take the time to learn, study, train and apply those lessons learned so that history doesn't repeat itself.
I had the opportunity to speak with Chief Bruce Smith of Colerain and Chief Mark Marentette of Defiance together and discuss both fires and the comparisons between the incidents. While the report from Colerain is not final or public as of this writing (nor is the NIOSH report), Chief Smith was clear in wanting to get several points across to our readers, specific to size-up.
When Captain Broxterman of Engine 102 arrived at the fire, she did not do a 360. While she did size-up the front, or A side, of the building, including her report of "smoke showing," she had only a "one-dimensional" view of the fire problem. Her side-A observation was an incomplete picture of what she and her crew were dealing with. She was not aware of the fire problem or the conditions related to the fire or the structure itself.
Comments (during the investigation) from the officer of Engine 109, the next-due engine, are interesting and important to note. He stated that when he saw the A side, he would not have thought there was any problem with heading in through the front door - in other words, from the single-dimensional view on side A, there was nothing unusual or alarming. There was "simply" smoke showing. However, he then proceeded away from side A and did conduct a 360 of the B, C and D sides. When he sized-up the B side, he saw the heavy fire condition in the basement that was extending.
He immediately had a totally different and much-clearer understanding of the fire problem. At that point, he realized that entering on the A side did not provide the best tactical vantage point and he advised command to "contact (Engine Company) 102, have them pull out of this first floor, redeploy to the back. It's easy access. Conditions are changing at the front door." This radio transmission was the result of the first of several observations and events as a part of this incident resulting in the tragic line of duty deaths of Captain Broxterman and Firefighter Schira.
It is absolutely critical for readers to understand that this, like many close calls and line-of-duty deaths, was a "typical" single-family-dwelling fire resulting in horrific losses; losses that we have an opportunity to learn from - as the firefighters from Defiance did.