How the Lessons Learned at One Fire Prevented a Similar Tragedy at Another

Last month, we discussed the tragic double firefighter line-of-duty deaths that occurred in Colerain Township, OH, on April 4, 2008. Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman, 37, and Firefighter Brian Schira, 29, died in the line of duty after the floor...


Last month, we discussed the tragic double firefighter line-of-duty deaths that occurred in Colerain Township, OH, on April 4, 2008. Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman, 37, and Firefighter Brian Schira, 29, died in the line of duty after the floor they were on collapsed at a fire in a...


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Last month, we discussed the tragic double firefighter line-of-duty deaths that occurred in Colerain Township, OH, on April 4, 2008. Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman, 37, and Firefighter Brian Schira, 29, 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. A more in-depth final report is being developed and is expected to be released in 2009, along with a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The intent of this account is to show how one fire department applied the initial lessons learned from another department — and how it mattered. Each month, the Close Calls column in Firehouse® Magazine is about learning from serious events that could have been worse. On occasion, we cover a line-of-duty death to learn from it. What is absolutely critical for readers to understand is that this, as in many close calls and line-of-duty deaths, was a typical single-family-dwelling fire that resulted in horrific losses — losses that we have an opportunity to learn from.

Of the many lessons learned at the Colerain fire, one that must be reiterated is that firefighters responding specifically to single-family-dwelling fires must perform a 360 as a part of their size-up prior to being able to make strategic and tactical decisions. If a 360 is not initially conducted, it is impossible to properly define the fire problem, perform a size-up and afford the best chance for firefighters to survive when operating interior. Officers sizing-up the incident must acknowledge that "this incident could go to hell at anytime, so what does that mean to my crew and what can we do to minimize that potential?"

Our thanks to the officers and members of the Colerain Township Department of Fire and EMS and the Defiance Fire and Rescue Division for their assistance with this two-part column. My special thanks to Colerain Chief Bruce Smith and his staff and Defiance Chief Mark Marentette and his staff for providing their passionate insight and sincere desire to share all the facts of both of these fires. We further dedicate both parts of this column to Captain Broxterman and Firefighter Schira as their tragic loss has not been in vain.

This account was prepared by Chief Mark Marentette of the Defiance Fire and Rescue Division:

Three minutes and 34 seconds…On Feb. 8, 2009, had it not been for a change in how the Defiance Fire and Rescue Division conducts 360-degree size-ups, three minutes and 34 seconds would have been just enough time for two firefighters to quite possibly lose their lives in a house fire. The change had been debated among Defiance Fire and Rescue's rank and file for months until July 2008, when the Colerain Township Department of Fire and EMS issued its preliminary report on the April 4, 2008, line-of-duty deaths of Captain Robin Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira.

For Defiance Fire and Rescue, the Colerain Township report settled the debate. We discontinued our practice of always having the 360-degree size-up performed by a chief officer, who often is not on scene until several minutes after first-in firefighters have already initiated interior operations. Instead, the 360-degree size-up is now conducted by the officer on the first-arriving apparatus or a simultaneously arriving chief officer before any firefighters make entry into the structure.

Because of the change, the initial view of the house from the street on Feb. 8 — heavy smoke, no visible fire — did not fool Lieutenant Steve Johnson and Firefighter Tim Moog into entering through the front door and groping their way through the smoke across a lightweight floor on the verge of total collapse. The floor collapsed into a walkout basement fully involved in fire within the next three minutes and 34 seconds — the time that lapsed between the arrival of Lieutenant Johnson, Firefighter Moog and two other firefighters, and the arrival of Assistant Chief Pete Schlosser. Had Defiance Fire and Rescue operated under its previous fireground procedures, the 360-degree size-up would not have occurred until Chief Schlosser arrived. By then, Lieutenant Johnson and Firefighter Moog could already have plunged through the weakened floor into the fire below.

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