NIOSH: ICS, Training Issues in Texas LODD

NIOSH investigators spoke of the importance of incident command and management and firefighters receiving training on Mayday following a probe of a 2010 blaze that claimed a Texas captain, who asked someone else to call for help after he became trapped.

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That Mayday transmission wasn't heard.

The following day, firefighters recovered the body of Wharton Fire Capt. Thomas Araguz, 30, inside the egg processing plant.

NIOSH investigators said a number of issues contributed to the fatal incident including the fact that firefighters entered the building with an uncharged hose and there was no RIT established in case crews got into trouble, which is just what happened.

Other issues cited following the investigation include inadequate water supply, ineffective tactics, communications and training. Also, the structure was built with little or no fire protection materials.

Following interviews, NIOSH officials wrote: "When the fire department arrived, flames were visible from the roof of the dry storage area. The victim's crew attempted to breach a wall for more direct access to where they thought the seat of the fire was located. The access was blocked by stacks of wooden pallets. Two captains made entry with an uncharged hoseline through the front door to find and extinguish the fire. The front of the plant was charged with heavy dark smoke and high heat conditions. They became disoriented in the thick smoke, lost the hoseline and called a Mayday that was not heard and acted upon. While searching for the handline, the captains ran out of air, got more disoriented and were separated. One captain attempted to kick out a section of wall and was heard by exterior crews who breached the wall and rescued him."

Fire conditions continued to worsen, and crews had to abandoned efforts to find Araguz. His body was recovered the following morning.

After talking to the firefighter who was with the victim, investigators said in their report: "They made it to the door and the victim suggested that they make a left hand search to see if they could find the seat of the fire. The victim took the nozzle and the captain followed him for approximately 30 feet when the victim said call a "Mayday." The captain did with no response. Note: It is unknown why the victim did not try to call Mayday, nor why the captain was not heard. At this time the captain realized they did not have the handline. Note: It is believed that a coupling of the handline got caught on something and got pulled from the victim's hand while he attempted to advance the handline. They were on their knees looking for the handline in zero visibility. They looked for less than five minutes and their low-air alarms sounded."

NIOSH officials stressed the need for all firefighters to be trained in knowing when to call a Mayday.

"The victim had some drill training in Mayday best practices but for an unknown reason he asked his partner to call a Mayday. Firefighters should be 100% confident in their competency to declare a Mayday for themselves. Fire departments should ensure that any personnel who may enter an IDLH environment have had training on Mayday competency throughout their active duty service. Presently there are no national Mayday standards for firefighters to be trained to and most states do not have Mayday standards."

They added that crews also "need to understand the psychological and physiological effects of the extreme level of stress encountered when they become lost, disoriented, injured, run low on air or become trapped during rapid fire progression. Most fire training curricula do not include discussion of the psychological and physiological effects of extreme stress, such as encountered in an imminently life threatening situation, nor do they address key survival skills necessary for effective response. Understanding the psychology and physiology involved in life threatening situations is an essential step in developing appropriate responses."