Death in the Line of Duty

Firehouse® Magazine continues to offer valuable information in this series of the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.


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.

SOUTH DAKOTA
Wildland Fire Claims the Life Of 1 Firefighter and Injures Another Firefighter (Case F2000-22)

SUMMARY
On March 15, 2000, a 62-year-old male volunteer firefighter (the victim) died from complications due to burns received during a wildland fire operation. The fire started on March 6, 2000, when a property owner burned a brush pile that ignited the surrounding area. (Note: Wind speeds of 21 mph with gusts of up to 36 mph were recorded at the time of this incident.) At approximately 2:41 P.M., Central Dispatch notified the volunteer department of a wildland fire. The chief and Firefighter 1 responded in Engine 1 and were first to arrive on the scene at approximately 2:47. They positioned their apparatus near the origin of the fire on the northwest flank. Engine 2 responded next on the scene, arriving at 2:51. The crew consisted of an engine operator and Firefighter 2, who positioned their apparatus at the head of the fire on the west flank.

At approximately 2:52, Brush Truck 1 arrived on the scene, manned by Firefighter 3, who positioned the apparatus at the northeast flank of the fire. The victim and Firefighters 4 and 5 arrived on the scene by privately owned vehicles (POVs) during the times that Engine 2 and Brush Truck 1 arrived on the scene. Engine 2 was positioned outside of a fence line, at the head of the fire, supplying water to the suppression crew. The suppression crew (the victim, Firefighters 4 and 5, and the engine operator from Engine 2) were using a 1½-inch hoseline to suppress the fire. As the crew moved closer to the fire, the victim was pulling a hoseline so that Firefighter 4 (the nozzleman) could advance the line closer to the fire. The suppression crew decided to cut the fence and drive Engine 2 into the field to attain a better position for fire suppression activities.

After pulling Engine 2 into the field, the crew decided to add another section of hose to extend the hoseline. After the extra section was added, the victim was pulling kinks out of the uncharged hoseline as the fire “shifted” directly toward the suppression crew. Firefighter 4, who was on the nozzle, fled the area as he saw the fire shift and received second-degree burns to his face and neck. As the fire shifted, the victim was caught in the direct path of the fire and received third-degree burns. Firefighter 4 transported the victim to the local hospital by POV. The victim died nine days later from complications due to burns.

CAUSE OF DEATH
According to the medical examiner’s report, the cause of death is listed as sepsis as a result of extensive thermal burns due to a grass fire.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fire departments should ensure that all firefighters receive training equivalent to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Firefighter Level I certification.
  • Fire departments should ensure that all firefighters receive training equivalent to the NFPA Wildland Firefighter Level I certification.
  • Fire departments should ensure that standard operating procedures (SOPs) are developed and followed, and that refresher training is provided.
  • Fire departments should ensure that the incident commander (IC) conveys strategic decisions to all suppression crews on the fireground and continually reevaluates fire conditions.
  • Fire departments should provide fireground personnel with personal protective equipment and monitor to ensure its use.
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