Death in the Line of Duty

NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program continues to present its investigations of firefighter line-of-duty 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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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 to determine fault or place blame on fire departments or individual firefighters, but to learn from these tragic events and prevent future similar events. NIOSH is a unit of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Firehouse® Magazine is pleased to join with NIOSH in presenting this valuable information. It is important to note that while some incidents that will be described here occurred several years ago, the information presented is valuable today. The accounts that follow are summaries of NIOSH investigations. The complete reports are available on the program website.


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MISSOURI
Career Fire Chief Dies Searching for Fire in a Restaurant/Lounge (Case F2004-10)

SUMMARY
On Feb. 18, 2004, a 40-year-old male career firefighter (the victim) was fatally injured in a commercial restaurant/lounge structure fire. The victim, providing mutual aid, had been searching for the seat of the fire with two volunteer firefighters from another department when one of these firefighters lost the seal on his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) facepiece. The firefighter immediately abandoned the nozzle position and retreated out of the closest door. The backup firefighter also retreated out of the building when his partner left. In the black smoke and zero visibility, the firefighters were unaware that the victim was still inside the structure. Soon after, the incident commander (IC) ordered an emergency evacuation because of an imminent roof collapse, and an air horn signal was sounded. Personnel accounting indicated that a missing firefighter (the victim) was still inside the building when the roof partially collapsed. After several search attempts, the victim was found in a face-down position with his mask and a thermal imaging camera cable entangled in a chair. His facemask was dislodged and not over his mouth. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

CAUSE OF DEATH
The coroner listed the cause of death as smoke inhalation. An independent toxicology report listed the victim’s carbon monoxide level at 51% saturation. There was no notable trauma.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fire departments should conduct pre-incident planning and inspections to facilitate development of a safe fireground strategy.

  • Fire departments should review, revise where appropriate, implement and enforce written standard operating guidelines (SOGs) that specifically address incident command (IC) duties, emergency evacuation procedures, personnel accountability, rapid intervention teams (RIT) and mutual aid operations on the fireground.

  • Fire departments should train on the SOGs, the incident command system and lost firefighter procedures with mutual aid departments to establish inter-agency knowledge of equipment, procedures and capabilities.

  • Fire departments should ensure that the IC maintains the role of directing fireground operations for the duration of the incident or until the command role is formally passed to another individual.

  • Fire departments should ensure that the IC conducts a risk-versus-gain analysis prior to committing firefighters to the interior and continually assesses risk versus gain throughout the operations.

  • Fire departments should consider appointing a separate, but systematically integrated incident safety officer.

  • Fire departments should ensure that all firefighters are equipped with radios that are capable of communicating with the IC.

  • Fire departments should ensure personnel accountability reports (PAR) are conducted in an efficient, organized manner and results are reported directly to the IC.

  • Fire departments should revise and enforce policies and guidelines regarding activation of personal alert safety system (PASS) devices.

  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters train with thermal imaging cameras and they are aware of their proper use and limitations.

  • Fire departments should ensure that individual firefighters are trained and aware of the hazards of exposure to carbon monoxide and other toxic fire gases.
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