Death in the Line of Duty

The National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health’s Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program presents the results of investigations of fireground incidents that turned deadly.


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...


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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 at www.cdc.gov/niosh/firehome.html.

1_niosh1.jpgCALIFORNIA Floor Collapse Claims the Life of 1 Firefighter and Injures 2 (Case F1999-03)

SUMMARY

On Jan. 10, 1999, three firefighters became trapped when the second floor of a nightclub collapsed during an interior fire attack. One male firefighter (the victim) died and two other firefighters were injured as they battled the late-morning blaze. Arriving on the scene of a two-story taxpayer building (commercial occupancy on the first floor and living quarters on the second), firefighters reported heavy smoke emitting from the second-floor windows and eaves with fire showing in a secondary front doorway that led to the second-floor. The fire quickly spread up the walls of the first floor to an area above the false ceiling over the first floor. The fire also spread up the walls to the attic area above the second floor.

As firefighters prepared entry through the main front door, other firefighters began applying water to the fire that was emitting through a secondary front door that led to the second floor. Gaining entry through the main front door, two firefighters from Engines 2550 (a captain and a firefighter) and three firefighters from Engine 2552 (one lieutenant, who was injured; an engineer; and a firefighter, the victim) advanced two 1½-inch charged lines and began applying water to the fire. Upon entering the smoke-filled structure, they noticed that the drywall drop ceiling was down in some areas, and they could see fire going up the walls and across the ceiling.

As the firefighters from Engine 2552 advanced their line, the engineer was struck in the head by falling debris that knocked off his helmet and he was forced to exit. Minutes later, a third firefighter from Engine 2550 joined his crew inside the structure. A firefighter (injured) from Engine 2552 also entered at the same time, relieving the victim on his line. The captain on Engine 2550 stated that as he continuously surveyed the interior conditions, it had appeared to him there had been a partial roof collapse (referring to the second floor as the roof). He then exited the structure and went to the command post to give the incident commander (IC) a report on the interior conditions, explaining that he felt there had been partial roof collapse (second-floor). Before the IC could make any changes, the captain returned to the interior of the structure to find his crew. Just as he located his crew, the second floor collapsed, trapping the three firefighters from Engine 2552. The captain of Engine 2550 and his crew escaped without injury. The rescue team quickly freed one firefighter and had to use hydraulic jacks, airbags and cribbing to free the lieutenant and the victim. All three firefighters were transported to a local hospital, where the victim was pronounced dead.

CAUSE OF DEATH

According to the medical examiner, the cause of death was listed as traumatic asphyxiation.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fire departments should use extreme caution and recognize potential hazards that could exist when fighting a fire in a balloon-frame structure.
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