Published on November 3, 2014.

2013 FIREFIGHTER INJURIES NARRATIVES

Struck by vehicle at non-fire emergency
At approximately 5 a.m. on a cold, rainy morning, the fire department was dispatched to the highway for a motor vehicle crash with reported entrapment. A ladder company with an officer and three firefighters arrived at the scene on the westbound side of the highway within five minutes and found a car resting on its side on the median, sticking out into both the east- and westbound high-speed lanes.

The police department had already blocked the high-speed lane on the westbound side of the road, so the driver of the ladder company blocked off a second westbound lane to establish a protected work zone for emergency personnel. The company officer asked the police to shut down the eastbound side of the highway to establish a second safety zone.

Several minutes after the firefighters’ arrival, a pickup truck traveling eastbound lost control on the slick roads and slammed into the car involved in the original crash. The truck overturned onto its passenger side and came to rest in the high-speed lane next to the original crash site.

The company officer left the safe area of the median to check on the driver of the overturned truck and was standing behind the vehicle when a third car lost control and slammed into the pickup. The force of the collision pushed the pickup truck into the officer, tossing him backwards several yards onto the snow-covered median. The pickup truck came to rest on top of the median next to him, barely missing him. 

An injured Kentucky firefighter is rescued by a fellow firefighter after being swept through rapids while assisting with the rescue of two fishermen

An injured Kentucky firefighter is rescued by a fellow firefighter after being swept through rapids while assisting with the rescue of two fisherman.

PHOTO: AP/Wide World

The company officer sustained multiple fractures, abrasions, and contusions, and was treated at the scene before he was transported to the nearest Level 1 trauma facility.

At the time of crash, the officer was wearing his structural firefighting gear, including his helmet, and the department credits his protective clothing, especially the helmet, with minimizing his injuries.

Injured while fighting structure fire
A chief officer assigned to oversee an interior fire-fighting crew was seriously injured after exhausting his air supply and becoming disoriented. The fire that the crew was fighting began in the basement of a two-story, multi-family house of ordinary construction when a portable space heater ignited combustibles that had been placed too close to it.

The firefighters had spent approximately five minutes searching for fire on the second floor when the fire intensified below them, spreading from the basement to the first floor. Recognizing the severity of the situation, the incident commander ordered all companies to evacuate the house and establish a defensive operation. The interior chief, who was a 22-year veteran, acknowledged the order, but notified command moments later that he was running out of air.

With his air supply nearly exhausted, the chief became lost and disoriented while searching for a way out. He found a window and quickly scrambled out of it and onto a ground ladder that had been raised up to it. He slipped and toppled down the ladder, falling onto another firefighter who was climbing up the ladder to help him out the window.

The chief, who was wearing a full structural firefighting protective ensemble with an integrated personal alert safety system (PASS) device on his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), was hospitalized for seven days with smoke inhalation and respiratory burns. He has not returned to firefighting activities.

A firefighter suffered contusions and muscle sprains when he was struck by the chief as he fell down the ladder. Another firefighter sprained his ankle post-incident. Both returned to firefighting activities in less than a month.

Falling down a fire pole
A 51-year-old firefighter remains unable to perform firefighting duties nearly a year after falling down a fire pole, sustaining serious knee and back injuries as well as contusions and some sprains and strains. He has been rehabilitating his knee and back injuries by participating in a work hardening program.

The victim, who has been a member of the department for 23 years, stood up from a table in the sitting room and was talking to another member when he stepped back and fell down the hole for the fire pole. It is unknown why the safety bar surrounding the hole was not closed. Fellow firefighters watched him fall down the hole and immediately reacted. Several of them rushed to the apparatus floor to render aid, while another requested an ALS ambulance that responded within four minutes.

The firefighter who was standing next to the victim before he fell went to the hole expecting to see the victim lying on the apparatus floor. When he opened the weight-actuated doors, however, he was surprised to find the victim hanging upside-down with his lower leg and knee caught on some pipes, trying to grab the pole with his hands.

The victim freed his leg and was able to swing himself around and fall onto his legs. He was transported to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

Firefighters battling a fire at an apartment complex in Virginia.

Two firefighters were hurt battling a fire at an apartment complex in Virginia.  Fire ground injuries accounted for more than 45 percent of all firefighter injuries in 2013.

PHOTO: AP/Wide World 

Struck by vehicle during non-fire emergency
A 35-year-old engineer with 13 years of experience suffered a severe leg fracture that ultimately resulted in the amputation of his lower leg.

The victim was performing an emergency medical assessment of an injured person at the scene of a car crash on a divided highway. According to the fire department, scene safety measures were established, and three firefighters and two emergency medical personnel were operating alongside law enforcement. Just after the patient was loaded into the ambulance, a vehicle went around the barriers and drove through the scene, striking several firefighters and a medic from the ambulance.

The driver of the vehicle that struck and seriously injured the victim was apprehended and is currently facing charges of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The victim has not returned to the fire service. The other firefighter and medic suffered minor injuries and were treated at and released from the local emergency department.

Firefighter evaluated following fatal crash
A company officer responding alone in a pumper to help a neighboring department with a car crash was driving down a straight stretch of two-lane road when a pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction suddenly veered into his lane. The apparatus operator turned and applied the brakes in an attempt to avoid the pickup, but could not avoid hitting the truck’s passenger-side door. The driver of the pickup was killed.

The company officer, an experienced apparatus driver, was wearing his protective trousers, coat, and boots, as well as his three-point seatbelt. A police investigation concluded that the nearly 20,000-pound (9,071-kilogram) pumper was traveling less than 55 miles (86 kilometers) per hour, the posted speed limit, and that there was nothing the officer could have done to prevent the crash.

Although the firefighter did not suffer any physical trauma, he was taken to a medical facility for precautionary reasons. The department also provided the company officer with counseling services.

Severely injured in apparatus crash
At approximately 3 a.m., a fire department dispatched two engine companies and an ambulance to an interstate highway for a reported car crash. When one of the responding engines arrived at the scene, the officer in charge determined that the crew would be able to handle the incident without the second engine, which was approaching the scene on the opposite side of the highway.

A few seconds after the second engine acknowledged the cancellation, it was rear-ended by a tractor trailer carrying a load of rice. The engine, with its warning lights still active, spun 180 degrees and slammed into a jersey barrier, spewing chunks of concrete over several vehicles traveling in the opposite side of the interstate, before rolling onto its passenger side.

The crash seriously damaged the engine, the tractor trailer, and three cars. It also severed the arm of the 30-year-old firefighter, who was seated—without his seat belt on—in the jump seat behind the officer. Doctors were able to reattach the arm after hours of surgery, but the firefighter was hospitalized for several months and remains unable to perform firefighting duties. The company officer, the driver, and the firefighter sitting in the jump seat behind the driver of the stricken engine were all wearing their seatbelts and sustained only minor contusions and abrasions.

The operator of the tractor trailer was charged with numerous violations, including driving in a reckless and imprudent manner, failure to control vehicle speed, and failure to yield right of way for an emergency vehicle. Contributing to the crash were slippery road conditions resulting from a drizzle that had fallen during the night.

Firefighter at the scene of a fire at an old church.

A California firefighter at the scene of a fire at a century-old church.  Two firefighters were injured when they became temporarily trapped following the collapse of the building's roof.

PHOTO: AP/Wide World

Gunshot during medical assistance alarm
An ambulance dispatcher who received a medical assistance alarm received no answer when he twice tried to call the house where the call originated. When the ambulance crew arrived, they, too, were unable to rouse the inhabitants, so they asked the fire department to respond to forced entry into the single-family home.

An engine company staffed with three firefighters responded without lights or siren within five minutes, and the firefighters made their presence known by knocking and announcing themselves in a loud voice. When one of the firefighters found a partially opened window near the front of the house, he raised the sash and stepped back, loudly telling everyone he had found an open window. As he reached inside to push up the blinds, he heard an alarm sound inside and heard a man yell “Hey!” The homeowner then fired a single shot out the window that struck the firefighter in the left thigh.

At that point, the company officer requested another medic unit and the police department, reporting he had shots fired and a firefighter down. The three firefighters and two medics then retreated to the ambulance and pulled it around the corner to a safe area.

The 33-year-old firefighter suffered minor injuries and was able to return to firefighting activities a day later. The fire department’s investigation report made several recommendations, telling crews to maintain situational awareness and unit accountability on all calls and to continuously announce their presence and intentions.

Injured while fighting structure fire
Firefighters responding to a 7:45 a.m. 911 call to a fire in a two-story, wood-frame, single-family house found a large amount of fire and smoke throughout the structure. After assessing the conditions, they advanced the first hose line through a side door on the first floor and began extinguishing the blaze.
The company officer and two firefighters were operating the hose line when the officer’s SCBA face piece and helmet became dislodged. The three men retreated, backing out the same door they had entered approximately eight minutes after arriving on scene.

The three men, all of whom were wearing full structural firefighting protective ensembles, suffered thermal burns. The company officer suffered second-degree burns on his head, smoke inhalation, and respiratory burns. He was hospitalized for several days and was able to resume firefighting activities seven weeks after the incident. The two firefighters also suffered second-degree burns to their ears, necks, and wrists.

Damage to the house, valued at $400,000, was assessed at about $300,000. The home was equipped with smoke alarms that functioned properly, alerting the residents to the fire. The house also had a residential fire sprinkler system, but the owner had shut it off before the fire, due to a leak.