Death in the Line of Duty

Editor’s note:

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/niosh/firehome.html.


Photo Courtesy NIOSH

Structural Collapse at an Auto Parts Store Fire Claims the Lives of 1 Career Lieutenant and 2 Volunteer Firefighters (Case F2002-50)

On Nov. 25, 2002, at approximately 1:20 P.M., occupants of an auto parts store returned from lunch to discover a light haze in the air and the smell of something burning. They searched for the source of the haze and burning smell and discovered what appeared to be the source of a fire. At 1:51, they called 911.

Units were immediately dispatched to the auto parts store with reports of smoke in the building. Firefighters advanced attack lines into the auto parts store and began their interior attack. Crews began opening up the ceiling and wall on the mezzanine where they found fire in the rafters. Three of the eight firefighters operating on the mezzanine began running low on air.

As they were exiting the building, the ventilation crews on the roof began opening the skylights and cutting holes in the roof. The stability of the roof was rapidly deteriorating, forcing everyone off the roof. The incident commander called for an evacuation of the building.

Five firefighters were still operating in the building when the ceiling collapsed. Two firefighters escaped. Attempts were made to rescue the three firefighters while conditions quickly deteriorated. Numerous firefighters entered the building and removed one of the victims. He was transported to the area hospital and later pronounced dead. Approximately two hours later, conditions improved for crews to enter and locate the other two victims on the mezzanine. The victims were pronounced dead about an hour later by the Deputy Medical Examiner.


The cause of death as recorded on the death certificates for all three victims was asphyxiation.


  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters provide the incident commander with interior size-up reports.
  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters open concealed spaces to determine whether the fire is in these areas.
  • Fire departments should ensure that pre-emergency planning is completed for mercantile and business occupancies.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a rapid intervention team is established and in position.
  • Fire departments should consider using a thermal imaging camera as a part of the interior size-up operation to aid in locating fires in concealed areas.
  • Fire departments should ensure that local citizens are provided with information on fire prevention and the need to report emergency situations as soon as possible to the proper authorities.
  • Fire departments should ensure that self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and equipment are properly inspected, used and maintained to ensure they function properly when needed.
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire command always maintains close accountability for all personnel operating on the fireground.
  • Building owners should ensure that building permits are obtained and local building codes are followed when additions or modifications are made.


Volunteer Captain Killed, 2 Firefighters and Police Officer Injured When Struck by Motor Vehicle at Highway Incident (Case F2002-38)

On July 1, 2002, a 28-year-old male volunteer captain (the victim) was struck by a motor vehicle while attending to a vehicle fire along an interstate highway. The victim was obtaining driver and vehicle information while standing near the incident scene when a passing northbound car was hit from behind by a pickup truck. The impact caused the vehicle to skid sideways, striking the victim and four others. The victim was life-flighted to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.


The Medical Examiner listed the cause of death as multiple blunt-force trauma.