The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has released its findings on the incident that claimed three firefighters in Gloucester City, NJ on July 4, 2002.
The tragedy occurred when a collapse at a structure fire trapped eight firefighters as they searched for three children.
Five of the eight trapped firefighters were rescued but three gave the ultimate sacrifice; volunteer fire chief James Sylvester of the Mount Ephraim FD (listed in the NIOSH report as Victim #1), volunteer deputy Chief John West of the Mount Ephraim FD (listed as Victim #2) and career firefighter Thomas G. Stewart III of the Gloucester City FD (listed as Victim #3).
The report details every step taken during the dispatch and response at the three-story, side-by-side duplex.
At one point, the report mentions, a firefighter was reported missing after he separated from his search group to assist a woman out of the building. Firefighters brought a thermal imaging camera to the second floor to search for him. Shortly after, the IC ordered an evacuation of the building to conduct a personnel accountability report.
During the evacuation, a firefighter from the mutual-aid career department attempted to radio his officer that the second floor was giving way, the report says, but was unable to communicate directly with the IC because the combination fire department in charge of the scene has a different operating frequency.
After the missing firefighter was accounted for, eight firefighters reentered the structure to continue their search efforts for the children. "While standing at the front door to the exposure apartment, Victim #1 informed the IC that the interior conditions were getting worse and that they were going to come out," the report says.
The firefighters could see flames rolling along the ceiling and heard timbers falling. "Victim #2," followed by a battalion chief, "proceeded down the stairs, when at approximately 0206 hours, the building collapse occurred," the report says. "Victim #1, Victim #3, and four fire fighters from Rescue 455 were in the living room on the first floor when the collapse occurred."
Second, third and fourth alarms were sounded and recovery efforts continued over the next several hours.
The report notes that two of the firefighters had manual PASS devices, and one did not have a PASS device. There were no reports of any PASS device sounding during the rescue or recovery efforts.
The investigation concludes that, to minimize the risk of similar incidents, fire departments should:
* ensure that the department's structural fire fighting standard operating guidelines (SOGs) are followed and refresher training is provided
* ensure that the Incident Commander (IC) formulates and establishes a strategic plan for offensive and defensive operations
* ensure that the incident commander (IC) continuously evaluates the risk versus gain during operations at an incident
* ensure that a separate Incident Safety Officer, independent from the Incident Commander, is appointed
* ensure that fire fighters conducting interior operations (e.g., search and rescue, initial attack, etc.) provide progress reports to the IC
* ensure that accountability for all personnel at the fire scene is maintained
* ensure that a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) is established and in position
* ensure that the officer in charge of an incident recognize factors (e.g., structural defects, large body of fire in an old structure, etc.) when analyzing potential building collapse
* ensure, when feasible, that fire fighters should respond together, in one emergency vehicle, as a crew
Additionally, municipalities should consider
* establishing and maintaining regional mutual-aid radio channels to coordinate and communicate activities involving units from multiple jurisdictions
The full NIOSH report is available online at www.cdc.gov/niosh/face200232.html