Death in the Line of Duty

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program continues to present its investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths to formulate recommendations for preventing future deaths...


Editor’s note: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths to formulate recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries. The program does not seek...


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CAUSE OF DEATH
The county medical examiner listed the cause of death for both victims as asphyxia due to the inhalation of smoke and soot.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fire departments should ensure that the incident commander (IC) is clearly identified as the only individual responsible for the overall coordination and direction of all activities at an incident.


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TENNESSEE

SUMMARY
On June 15, 2003, a 39-year-old male career lieutenant (Victim 1) and a 39-year-old male career firefighter (Victim 2) died while trying to exit a commercial structure following a partial collapse of the roof supported by lightweight metal trusses (bar joists). The victims were searching for fire and possible entrapment of the store manager. Both victims were in the back of the store operating a handline on the fire that was rolling overhead above a suspended ceiling. A truck company was pulling ceiling tiles searching for fire extension when a possible backdraft explosion occurred in the void space above the ceiling tiles. Victim 1 called for everyone to back out due to the intense heat. At this point, the roof system at the rear of the structure began to fail, sending debris down on top of the firefighters. Victim 1 and Victim 2 became separated from the other firefighters and were unable to escape. Crews were able to remove Victim 2 within minutes and transported him to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries the following day. Soon after Victim 2 was removed, the rear of the building collapsed, preventing further rescue efforts until the fire was brought under control. Victim 1 was recovered approximately 1½ hours later.

CAUSES OF DEATH
The cause of death as reported by the county medical examiner for Victim 1 was thermal burns. The cause of death for Victim 2 was thermal inhalation injury.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fire departments should ensure that the first-arriving company officer does not become involved in firefighting efforts when assuming the role of incident command.

  • Fire departments should ensure that the incident commander (IC) conducts an initial size-up and risk assessment of the incident scene before beginning interior firefighting operations.

  • Fire departments should conduct pre-incident planning and inspections for mercantile and business occupancies.

  • Fire departments should ensure that ventilation is closely coordinated with the fire attack.

  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters immediately open ceilings and other concealed spaces whenever a fire is suspected of being in a truss system.

  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters performing firefighting operations under or above trusses are evacuated as soon as it is determined that the trusses are exposed to fire.

  • Fire departments should consider using a thermal imaging camera as a part of the size-up operation to aid in locating fires in concealed areas.

  • Additionally, municipalities should consider requiring specific building construction information on an exterior placard.