Death in the Line of Duty

The NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program continues to present its investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths to formulate recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries.


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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The firefighters then regrouped and prepared to complete the last training evolution, which involved burning the structure from top to bottom. The victim, second rescue lieutenant, third assistant chief engineer and a firefighter proceeded to the attic of the structure (a room approximately 1,000 square feet with an eight-foot ceiling). The victim used a small liquid sprayer to spray diesel fuel on debris, which was spread throughout the attic. The second rescue lieutenant and the third assistant chief engineer struck a flare and ignited the debris in several places throughout the attic.

The fire quickly accelerated and all the firefighters in the attic, except for the victim, who was wearing full turnout gear and a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), exited. The victim stated that he was going to stay in the attic to make sure that the fire was burning adequately. The fire intensified and smoke and heat started banking down the attic stairs. The chief and firefighters noticed that the victim did not exit and made several attempts to locate him. The captain and second rescue lieutenant were able to locate the victim, who was unconscious on the attic floor, but were unable to remove him. Shortly after, the attic roof collapsed, forcing the firefighters to make a defensive attack. The fire was eventually extinguished and the firefighters removed the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

CAUSE OF DEATH
The death certificate listed the cause of death as asphyxiation and thermal burns. The victim’s carbon monoxide level was listed at 41%. (Note: Because of several factors – the length of time the victim was exposed to heat and fire, the collapsed debris and the severity of the damage to the SCBA – it is unclear whether the victim’s SCBA facepiece was removed, SCBA hoselines melted or if the SCBA malfunctioned. Due to the condition of the SCBA unit, no further evaluation could be completed. The SCBA was new and the victim had been using it prior to this incident. No problems with the SCBA were reported by the victim in the past or throughout the entire training operation.)

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fire departments should ensure that flammable or combustible liquids as defined in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 30 not be used in live-fire training.
  • Fire departments should ensure that proper ventilation is in place before a controlled burn takes place.
  • Fire departments should ensure that fires not be ignited in any designated path of exit.
  • Fire departments should ensure that an evacuation signal is communicated to all firefighters prior to ignition.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a building evacuation plan is in place and all firefighters are familiar with the plan.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a method of fireground communication is established to enable coordination among the incident commander (IC) and firefighters.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a safety officer is appointed for all live-fire training.
  • Fire departments should ensure that each firefighter is equipped with full protective clothing and a SCBA.
  • Fire departments should ensure that backup personnel are standing by with equipment, ready to provide assistance or rescue.
  • Fire departments should ensure that only one person be assigned as the “ignition officer” and it not be a firefighter participating in the training.
  • Fire departments should ensure that exterior fire attack is at a minimum during search and rescue.
  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters who enter a hazardous condition enter as a team of two or more.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
If you have any questions regarding the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, please contact:

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health