NIOSH Issues Report on S.C. Firefighter Fatality


A South Carolina firefighter struck and killed along a highway in 2010 had no time to react to the vehicle that hit him.

Following a probe, NIOSH investigators also noted that Columbia Firefighter Chance H. Zobel, 23, was wearing a reflective vest as required and apparatus had been placed to block traffic.

About 2 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2010, the Columbia Fire Department was dispatched for a grass fire along an interstate highway. They found the small blaze was nearly out.

The engine driver advised the quint operator that they could cancel because the fire was nearly out.

However, the quint driver said he would continue to help block traffic along the highway. NIOSH investigators noted that the vehicles were positioned in a manner to protect the firefighters.

Following interviews with firefighters and troopers who investigated the incident, they wrote: “A car and a van were travelling eastbound toward the parked fire apparatus. Both vehicles were in the passing lane when the van hit the back of the car. Following the collision, the van drove on the shoulder of the passing lane and stopped before reaching E4 (the quint). The car travelled onto the left shoulder of the highway passing between both apparatus and the guardrail before striking the two firefighters…”

The victim landed on the shoulder, while the injured firefighter was thrown into the median. Another jumped out of the way at the last second.

Zobel was pronounced dead at a local hospital. He sustained multiple traumatic injuries.

The Columbia Fire Department had a policy for protecting firefighters working along the road, and they’ve been updated.

NIOSH suggests that all include roadside emergency work zone SOPs include specific direction on:

  • establishing incident command
  • performing initial scene size-up and continual assessment of risks,
  • training on the need and methods for maintaining on-scene situational awareness
  • safe travel response protocols, apparatus placement at the scene, and markings to increase visibility
  • requirements for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • safe placement of advance warning signs and transition areas.