Through The Smoke: Firefighter Trapped - A Mayday and a LODD

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Technician (Firefighter) Kyle Wilson of the Prince William County, VA, Department of Fire & Rescue was killed in the line of duty when he heroically gave his life at a single-family dwelling fire on April 16, 2007. In this episode of Through the Smoke, host Billy Goldfeder welcomes Prince William County Chief Kevin McGee and Battalion Chief Jennie Collins to discuss what happened, how it happened, what lessons were learned so far and what we can do at our departments so we don't repeat history.

Critical Note

Below there are numerous links to the report, the audio, the video and automated recreations. For example, within the audio, you will hear the chilling radio transmissions of Firefighter Wilson advising that he was trapped, with his words:

Technician Wilson joined the Prince William County Fire and Rescue on January 23, 2006. Tragically, he died in the line of duty on April 16, 2007.

On that day, Technician Wilson was part of the three members staffing Tower 512, which responded to the house fire at 6:03 a.m. The initial dispatch sent: three engines (with three), one truck (with four), one battalion chief (alone), one EMS unit (with two). Additionally, a rescue company (with five) was added to the assignment and a safety officer was added to the prior to the second alarm.

The area was under a high wind advisory as a nor'easter storm moved through the area. Sustained winds of 25 mph with gusts up to 48 mph were prevalent in the area at the time of the fire dispatch.

Initial arriving companies reported heavy fire on the exterior of two sides of the single-family house and crews believed that occupants were still inside the house sleeping because of the early morning hour. A search of the upstairs bedroom (by the officer and firefighter (Wilson) of Tower 512 commenced for the possible victims. While on the second floor searching, a rapid and catastrophic change of fire and smoke conditions occurred in the interior of the house within minutes of Tower 512's crew entering the structure. Technician Wilson became separated from his officer and was lost and unable to locate an immediate exit. Technician Wilson succumbed to the fire and the cause of death was reported by the medical examiner to be thermal and inhalation injuries.

The major factors in the line of duty death of Technician Wilson were determined to be:

  • The initial arriving fire suppression force size.
  • The size up of fire development and spread (see Goldfeder's comment below)
  • The impact of high winds on fire development and spread
  • The large structure size and lightweight construction and materials
  • The rapid intervention and firefighter rescue efforts
  • The incident control and management

Chief Goldfeder Comments

It is critical for firefighters and officers - and those who fund fire departments - to understand that it takes firefighters and resources to perform the needed tasks. There will be times when we realistically cannot do all we want to do, based upon fire conditions, size-up and immediate resources. Simply put, you cannot successfully perform all the required, coordinated and simultaneous tasks of, for example, a fire that requires 30 to 40 firefighters, when you only have five to 10 on the scene. Tasks to consider and plan for may include:

  • Water supply establishment (primary and secondary)
  • Pump/equipment operations
  • Stretching/flowing handlines
  • Forcing entry
  • Venting
  • Searching
  • Rescue/victim removal
  • Command/control/accountability/communications
  • Firefighter Rescue
  • EMS
  • Safety

These are among all required tasks on the first alarm. This applies to any fire department, anywhere and not specific to this fire. And fire departments must pre-evaluate their ability to perform those tasks based upon their first alarm assignments and staffing.

The weather conditions and construction features resulted in the rapid and catastrophic progression of fire conditions. We dedicate this episode of Through the Smoke in the memory of Firefighter Technician Kyle Wilson.

Related Links

IAFC Safety and Health Section

Firefighter Close Calls Fire Reports

50 Ways Firefighters Die (PDF)

50 Ways Firefighter Live

Prince William County LODD Report: Fact Sheet (PDF)

Prince William County LODD Report: Investigative Report (PDF)

Prince William County LODD Report: Presentation (WMV)

Prince William County LODD Report: Basic House Model (WMV)

Prince William County LODD Report: Fire Model (WMV)

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