Risk versus Gain: Operations in Vacant or Abandoned Structures
Fire Fighter LODD after Being Trapped in a Roof Collapse During Overhaul of a Vacant/Abandoned Building. NIOSH recently published a report on a 2008 LODD that occurred in a vacant/ abandoned building. NIOSH Report F2008-0037. The full report is available HERE. Let’s look at some insights and overviews of that report.
On November 15, 2008, a 38-year-old male fire fighter died after being crushed by a roof collapse in a vacant/abandoned building. Fire fighters initially used a defensive fire attack to extinguish much of the fire showing from the second-floor windows on arrival. After the initial knockdown, fire crews entered the second floor to perform overhaul operations. During overhaul, the roof collapsed with several fire fighters still inside, on the second floor. The victim and two other fire fighters were trapped under a section of the roof. Crews were able to rescue two fire fighters (who self-extricated), but could not immediately find the victim. After cutting through roofing materials, the victim was located by fire fighters, unconscious and unresponsive.
He was removed from the structure and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include: dilapidated building conditions, incendiary fire originating in the unprotected structural roof members, inadequate risk-versus-gain analysis prior to committing to interior operations involving a vacant/abandoned structure, inadequate accountability system, lack of a safety officer, an inadequate maintenance program for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and a poorly maintained and likely inoperable personal alert safety systems (PASS), ineffective strategies for the prevention of and the remediation of vacant/abandoned structures and arson prevention.
Inherent Construction Issues
This incident occurred in a vacant unsecured residential structure which had experienced a previous fire approximately one year prior to this incident. During interviews with NIOSH investigators, fire fighters reported large amounts of fire showing from all windows on the second floor on arrival. Fire fighters also reported that the roof had burned through on the Side B/C and one fire fighter reported he could see the sky while ascending the interior stairs to perform overhaul. It is not known if the roof conditions were communicated to the incident commander before fire fighters were assigned to operate on the roof. The fire fighters were unaware of the conditions such as the exposed roof assembly, possible removal of rafter connectors (collar beams), and the use of a flammable liquid in the structural members of the roof and second floor attic area. The roof assembly (being unprotected) was directly involved as part of the fuel in this fire.
The large dormer on the A-side presents an identifiable inherent risk factor (due to the potential for structural compromise or failure) when found on 1.5 story bungalow style residential structure due to the integral manner in which the dormer structure, i.e., roof rafters, dormer framing and roofing boards along with the functionality of the ridge beam must function in order to retain structural integrity under fire conditions. The dormer may be actually supported at the upper end directly onto the roofing boards, which in turn are supported by the perpendicular roof rafters. This creates a potential area for pronounced degradation when exposed to direct or indirect flame impingement creating an area prone to early structural compromise and eventual failure.