INJURED AFTER RUNNING OUT OF AIR
A firefighter suffered a severe respiratory injury after running out of air and becoming disoriented while operating in a bedroom fire at a single-wide mobile home.
When the fire department arrived at the old, vacant single-wide trailer, fire was venting from a small bedroom window on one end. Two firefighters quickly assembled at the front door and entered the burning structure with a charged hose line. Visibility was extremely poor and the smoke level was approximately 1 foot (30.4 cm) off the floor, with elevated temperatures at the ceiling. After they took several steps inside the door, the hand line became entangled, slowing the advance. The backup firefighter followed the line back to the front door, freed the entanglement, and followed the line back to the nozzle.
When he arrived back at the nozzle, his partner was missing. He transmitted a mayday over the radio and then heard a plea for help coming from his right. The backup firefighter stated his partner’s calls for help did not sound muffled as they would if he was wearing his facepiece. He turned toward the calls, entering a room to his right. He began to search and heard the sound of rushing air similar to air escaping from a face piece. He looked under the layer of smoke and could see the green lights from his partner’s self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Later, it was determined the green lights were from the heads up display inside the nozzle man’s face piece lying on the floor. He quickly converted the downed firefighter’s SCBA into a harness, loosened one of the firefighter’s shoulder straps, and began dragging him towards the front door.
The incident commander, who was just outside the door, did not hear the mayday but could tell something was wrong with the interior crew and called a mayday that was understood by everyone on the scene. Two other firefighters nearing the door with a second hand line heard the chief transmit the mayday and immediately entered the structure and encountered the interior team coming out. The downed firefighter was quickly brought outside to the front lawn, where he was treated for respiratory burns and smoke inhalation. The 48-year-old firefighter was transported and hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
The department conducted a thorough injury investigation and identified several key issues contributing to the near-death event. Issues with protective clothing, SCBA, and radio communications were highlighted in the report. Recommendations were identified for improvements.
The victim’s structural firefighting ensemble was a collection of borrowed gear from other firefighters, including the facepiece for his SCBA. Recommended improvements in in the department’s personal protective clothing program included compliance with NFPA 1851, Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
The internal investigative report identified a mechanical failure of the victim’s SCBA to provide sufficient tidal volume, causing the victim to be deprived of air in a highly toxic environment. The report also states the lack of positive pressure inside the facepiece allowed smoke and products of combustion to enter the victim’s SCBA. Improvements in the department’s medical monitoring and establishing SCBA facepiece fit testing for each member, along with regular SCBA testing and maintenance compliant with NFPA 1981, Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services.
The report also identified antiquated portable radios as a contributing factor in the original mayday not being heard. The portable radio used by the interior firefighter calling the mayday was over 15 years old. By implementing a maintenance program that meets the proposed NFPA 1802, Personal Portable (Hand-Held) Two-Way Radio Communications Devices for Use by Emergency Services Personnel in the Hazard Zone, a standard currently in development, the probability of this communication system failure would be minimized.
It is unknown if the victim has returned to fire duty.
INJURED WHEN RESPONDING ENGINE TRUCK OVERTURNS
Two firefighters responding in an engine truck to a fire alarm activation suffered minor injuries after the truck left the road and overturned.
The vehicle was a 2005 engine truck with a 1,000-gallon (3,785-liter) tank. During the emergency response with lights and siren, the truck’s front right tire left the roadway. The driver immediately tried to correct the truck’s course by turning to the left. He overcorrected, subsequently driving the truck off the left side of the road. He once again tried to correct his course by turning to the right, causing the truck to roll over onto the driver’s side.
The 35-year-old driver, who had 20 years’ firefighting experience, suffered a minor head injury and was treated and released. He was able to remove himself from the cab of the truck after kicking out the windshield. The officer of the truck, who was wearing his bunker pants, boots, coat, and helmet, suffered a shoulder injury. He was unable to perform firefighting activities for 30 days. The department credits the use of seatbelts in minimizing injuries.
INJURED DURING RESCUE OPERATIONS AT RESIDENTIAL FIRE
An occupant of a two-family home awoke to the sound of smoke alarms at 3:30 a.m. and discovered thick acrid smoke on the second floor. The occupant called her roommate, who was on his way home. She opened a door leading outside to a second-floor porch and called the fire department.
The origin and cause investigation determined that the fire originated in the kitchen after flames from unattended cooking extended to newspapers, books, and other material stored too close to the stove. The fire was ventilation-controlled for approximately 30 minutes. Once the occupant opened the door to the second-floor porch to escape the house, she introduced air into the smoke-filled atmosphere. Compounding the problem, the roommate returned home and opened the front door. The fire transformed from ventilation-limited to free burning and rapidly spread throughout the home, extending onto the exterior porches on the first and second floors.
The fire department arrived on scene five minutes after the initial call and encountered heavy smoke with fire rapidly extending throughout the wood-frame home, and the occupant was trapped on the second-floor porch. Firefighters quickly raised a ground ladder to the porch and began rescue operations.
During the rescue operation, two firefighters suffered burns and smoke inhalation. They were transported to the hospital and treated. Both were able to return to firefighting activities one to three months after the incident. A third firefighter suffered a sprained ankle while assisting in the rescue operation, but missed only one day.
The fire department report recommended several improvements, including that all members wear full structural protective ensembles while operating at fires, and to better educate the public about notifying 911 immediately when discovering a fire.
INJURED IN RESPONDING APPARATUS CRASH
On a cool rainy morning, an engine company staffed with seven firefighters was dispatched to a box alarm. While responding, the 1995 apparatus crashed into a telephone pole after a near collision at an intersection.
The driver of the engine, when approaching the intersection, noticed a passenger car coming from his left into the intersection, cutting off the responding apparatus. The truck turned to the right and drove off the road over the curb, striking a traffic sign and a utility pole, before resting on its left side against the severed utility pole. All seven firefighters were able to extricate themselves from the overturned apparatus and were transported to the hospital.
The fire department investigation compiled witness statements, along with drive camera video and pictures, and video from nearby store security cameras, to determine the cause of the crash.
The apparatus approached the intersection with its warning lights on but not using its audible warning devices. The car had the right of way because it had the green light. The apparatus had plenty of time to slow down and come to a complete stop before entering the intersection. Speed was excessive, especially for the slippery road conditions.
The department disciplined the driver and officer for numerous motor vehicle and department violations. Recommendations from the department safety officer included improving annual driver training in accordance with NFPA 1451, Fire and Emergency Service Vehicle Operations Training Program.
SEVEN INJURED IN WIND-DRIVEN RESIDENTIAL FIRE
On a cold, overcast, windy weekday morning, a neighbor noticed the house next door was on fire and promptly called the fire department, which dispatched two engine trucks, a ladder truck, and two battalion chiefs. After receiving several more phone calls, including one from the occupants stating they were trapped on the second floor, the response was upgraded to include a third engine truck and an emergency medical truck. The first engine truck arrived within four minutes, staffed with a company officer, a driver/pump operator, and a firefighter. The remaining responding units arrived, bringing the overall fireground personnel to a total of 19.
Upon their arrival, firefighters found several rooms on fire on the first floor. The officer and firefighter from the first engine advanced a hose line into the first-floor living room, extinguishing fire as they advanced. Two members of the ladder truck began searching for trapped occupants on the second floor. Horizontal ventilation was performed during fire attack on both the windward and leeward sides of the two-story, wood-frame, single-family residence. A strong wind from the southwest, blowing between 15 and 25 mph (24 and 40 km/h) with gusts around 30-32 mph (48-51 km/h), rapidly intensified the flames.
The wind-driven fire rapidly extended throughout the first floor and up the interior stairs, trapping the occupants and two rescuers on the second floor, blocking their egress. The two firefighters on the hand line in the first-floor living room had to retreat outside and suffered minor burns. Members from the third engine company raised two ground ladders to the roof of the front porch and a bedroom window on the side of the house in order to remove the trapped occupants and rescuers.
The flames not only blocked their egress but were extending over their heads as they retreated into a bedroom. One of the rescuers, a company officer, pushed the occupants and firefighter out a window leading to the front porch roof. With flames extending over his head, the officer then performed a head-first emergency bailout maneuver onto a ground ladder placed under a separate window on the side of the house.
A total of seven firefighter injuries occurred at this fire. Four suffered first-degree burns when the fire rapidly intensified. All four were operating inside the structure: two were operating a hand line on the first floor, and the other two were rescuing a trapped occupant on the second floor. Most important, their burns were minimized because they had worn their structural firefighter protective ensembles properly. Two other firefighters operating outside on ground ladders while assisting in rescue efforts suffered smoke inhalation because they did not wear the facepiece to their self-contained breathing apparatus. Also, a firefighter strained his back while pulling hose outside the structure on the front lawn. One occupant suffered burns and smoke inhalation while trying to escape the fire.
The Fire Protection Research Foundation, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the New York City Fire Department, and New York University have done research into wind-driven fires. The NFPA report on firefighting tactics under wind-driven conditions can be found online.
INJURED IN BURNING ROOF SYSTEM COLLAPSE
Residents living in a seven-unit apartment complex were alerted to a fire by local smoke alarms. They noticed smoke in the hallway of the second floor in the residential/commercial building, a mixed-use occupancy of Type III construction. The seven apartments were located directly above several retail stores, which were not open at the time of the fire.
Arriving firefighters were told that one occupant was still in the building. Two firefighters made entry onto the second floor to begin search and rescue operations. They encountered high heat conditions that completely obscured visibility. They advanced an attack hand line and searched for the missing occupant. The company officer was on the nozzle and advanced into an apartment on the right while the other firefighter stayed at the door, ensuring there were no kinks in the hose and helping feed hose into the room. During the search, the timber roof system experienced a catastrophic failure and collapsed on the company officer, trapping him under flaming debris.
The company officer, a captain with 26 years’ experience, removed one of his gloves and made three attempts to call a mayday. Each time he was unsuccessful and received a busy tone. A successful mayday was called 10 minutes after the alarm was dispatched. According to the department, there was no dedicated rapid intervention team in place at the time of the collapse, but incoming resources were quickly assigned to the rescue effort.
The officer was able to free himself from the debris by loosening the straps to his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and sliding out from the straps, effectively removing the SCBA. He was then able to push debris off himself and slide out from under the debris. He followed voice commands to a window where he was removed from the structure.
The 54-year-old captain suffered burns on his hand, foot, shins, and buttocks. The most severe were 2nd and 3rd degree burns on the top of his foot. A single layer of leather from his boots burned through because smoldering debris landed on the top of his foot. He required skin grafts during his treatment. At this time, he has not returned to the fire service and is still undergoing rehabilitation.
The fire department report officially listed the cause of the fire as undetermined but indicated the fire originated in the structure’s cockloft, with structural framing as the first material ignited. The smoke alarms in the second-floor hallway activated and alerted the occupants. A 54-year-old male occupant died from smoke inhalation; the report did not indicate any conditions preventing his escape from the burning structure.