Firefighter Fatalities in the United States, 2011
For the second year in a row, the report details the lowest number of on-duty deaths since the study began in 1977
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NFPA Journal®, July/August 2012
By Rita F. Fahy, ph.d., Paul R. LeBlanc, and Joseph L. Molis
In 2011, 61 firefighters died while on duty in the United States. This is the third consecutive year that the number of deaths has dropped sharply and is, for the second year in a row, the lowest total since NFPA began conducting this annual study in 1977. In the previous three years, the totals were 73, 82, and 105 deaths, respectively. The average number of deaths annually over the past 10 years is 91.
Of the 61 firefighters who died while on duty in 2011, 35 were volunteer firefighters, 21 were career firefighters, three were employees of state land management agencies, and two were employees of federal land management agencies.
This study includes only on-duty firefighter fatalities that occurred in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, a firefighter in Guam died in 2011 while on station duty.
Type of duty
Thirty fatalities, the largest share of the deaths that occurred last year, took place while firefighters were operating on the fire ground. Although this total is consistent with the average of 31 deaths per year on the fire ground over the past 10 years and far below the average of 69 deaths per year in the first 10 years of this study, it represents 49 percent of the on-duty deaths in the year. The share of deaths on the fire ground has not been this high since 1999, when 56 of the 112 deaths that year, or 50 percent, resulted from fire ground operations.
Ten firefighters died while responding to, or returning from, emergency calls. It is important to note that deaths in this category are not necessarily the result of vehicular crashes. Five of the deaths were due to sudden cardiac events, four occurred in collisions or rollovers, and one firefighter slipped on ice while responding to an emergency and fell, striking his head. All 10 victims were volunteer firefighters. This is the lowest number of deaths while responding to, or returning from, alarms and the smallest share of on-duty deaths reported since the study began in 1977.
Six deaths occurred during training activities. Sudden cardiac death claimed four of the six firefighters: one collapsed during an ice rescue exercise, another during his annual fitness test, one while running a live fire training exercise, and another, a recruit, during maze training. Another of the six firefighters suffered a stroke after his annual SCBA qualification drill at the fire station. The sixth fell while climbing a rope after participating in a ropes skills class, striking his head on the pavement.
Five firefighters died at non-fire emergencies, including three at the scene of motor vehicle crashes. Two of the three were struck by vehicles and the third suffered sudden cardiac death. A fourth firefighter drowned during a water rescue, and the fifth suffered sudden cardiac death at an EMS call.
2011 Firefighter Fatality Narratives
A number of stories about firefighters dying in the line of duty, including two who died when they were unable to outrun a wildfire ignited by a lightning strike.
The remaining 10 firefighters died while involved in a variety of non-emergency-related on-duty activities. Seven of the victims, all of whom succumbed to sudden cardiac death, were engaged in normal administrative or station duties; one fell from a step ladder while removing a sign from a wall; one firefighter was crushed while doing vehicle maintenance; and one collapsed while clearing debris after a storm.
Fire ground deaths
Of the 30 fire ground fatalities, 22 occurred at 20 structure fires, seven occurred on six wildland fires, and one occurred at an outside fire involving railroad ties.
Twelve of the 22 firefighters who died at structure fires died in residential properties. Fires in one- and two-family dwellings killed eight, and four died in fires in apartment buildings. Of the 10 firefighters who died in nonresidential structures, two were killed in fires in vacant dwellings, two were killed when a coal storage bin exploded, and another was killed at a shed fire. One firefighter died at a fire involving a garage, one died at a church fire, one at a nursing home fire, one at a furniture store fire, and one at an office building fire.
Two of the structures in which these firefighters died had automatic suppression systems. One was a single-family house in which a sprinkler system protected the living space, but the fire, which involved an outdoor fireplace that had been installed inside the house, spread in the walls and up to the unprotected attic. The ceiling collapsed, killing one firefighter and injuring several others. The other structure was an office building, which had a partial sprinkler system that did not protect the fire floor and had no impact on the fire. None of the other structures had an automatic fire suppression system.
Four of the seven victims at wildland fires were overrun by fire. Three of the four died of burns, and the fourth succumbed to smoke inhalation. A fifth firefighter suffered a fatal cardiac event, another died of heat stroke on a very hot day, and the seventh was struck by a fire department vehicle in heavy smoke conditions.
Cause and nature of fatal injury or illness
Half of the deaths that occurred in 2011 resulted from overexertion, stress, or related medical issues. Of the 32 deaths in this category, 31 were classified as sudden cardiac deaths, usually heart attacks, and one was due to a stroke.
The second leading cause of fatal injury was being caught or trapped, which resulted in 15 deaths. Seven of the 15 firefighters died as a result of rapid fire progress, four of them at three wildland fires and three in two structure fires. Three others were killed in separate structure fires when roofs or a ceiling collapsed. Two died when a silo exploded during suppression activities. One firefighter became lost inside at a structure fire. One drowned while attempting a water rescue. And one firefighter was performing maintenance beneath a vehicle when the jack failed and the vehicle fell, crushing him.
The next leading cause of fatal injury was being struck by, or coming into contact with, an object. The eight firefighters killed in this fashion included four who were involved in motor vehicle crashes and three who were struck by motor vehicles. These deaths involving motor vehicles are discussed in more detail in a separate section of this report. The eighth firefighter was killed when a wall collapsed at a structure fire.
Five firefighters died in falls. One fell from a step ladder and struck his head while removing a sign at the fire station. Another slipped on ice while responding from his home to an emergency call. One firefighter fell from a rope he was climbing after a ropes skills class, one fell through the roof of a structure while performing ventilation operations, and one fell, unobserved, from a bridge at the scene of an outside fire.
One firefighter died of heat stroke while operating on a wildland fire on an extremely hot day.
Sudden cardiac deaths
Overall, sudden cardiac death is the number-one cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities in the United States and almost always accounts for the largest share of deaths in any given year. These are cases in which the onset of symptoms occurred while the victim was on duty and death occurred immediately or shortly thereafter. The number of deaths in this category has fallen significantly since the early years of this study, and the 31 sudden cardiac deaths of 2011 that began while the victim was on duty is the lowest since this study began in 1977. From 1977 through 1986, an average of 60 on-duty firefighters suffered sudden cardiac deaths per year; this represents 44.7 percent of the on-duty deaths during that period. The average number of deaths fell to 44 per year in the 1990s and to 38 in the past decade. In spite of this reduction, sudden cardiac death still accounted for 41 percent of the on-duty deaths in the last five years and 51 percent in 2011 alone.
For 22 of the 31 victims of sudden cardiac events in 2011, post mortem medical documentation showed that 13 were hypertensive, six had coronary artery disease, five were diabetic, and four were reported to have had a history of cardiac problems, such as previous heart attacks, bypass surgery, or angioplasty/stent placement. Some of the victims had more than one condition. Other risk factors represented among the victims of sudden cardiac death included obesity, high cholesterol, smoking, and family history. Medical documentation was not available for the other nine firefighters.
Sudden cardiac death accounts for a higher proportion of the deaths among older firefighters, as might be expected. Almost 60 percent of the firefighters over age 40 who died in 2011 died of heart attacks or other cardiac events. The youngest victim of sudden cardiac death was aged 26.
In 2011, four firefighters died in separate vehicle crashes. All four died while responding to incidents, and three of the four died in crashes involving their own vehicles. The fourth involved a wildfire brush truck. One of the victims was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected, two were wearing seatbelts, and no information on seatbelt use was available for the fourth victim. Excessive speed was a factor in at least two of the four crashes. Other factors reported were driver distraction and weather conditions.
This is the lowest number of road crash deaths since the first year of the study in 1977. There were no crashes involving aircraft or watercraft in 2011.
Four firefighters were killed in connection with intentionally set fires in 2011, three at the scene of the fires and one while responding to a fire. Three were structure fires, and one was an outside fire involving railroad ties. From 2002 through 2011, 52 firefighters, representing 5.7 percent of all on-duty deaths, died in connection with intentionally set fires. The number of these deaths annually has been dropping since 1985.
In 2011, one firefighter died as a result of a false alarm or false call, in this case, a system malfunction. Over the past 10 years, 22 firefighter deaths have resulted from false calls, including malicious false alarms and alarm malfunctions.
The firefighters who died in 2011 ranged in age from 18 to 82, with a median age of 45 years. Two were age 80 or over. Over the past five years, firefighters in their 20s and 30s had the lowest death rates, at less than two-thirds the all-age average, while the rate for firefighters aged 60 and over was almost four times the average. Firefighters 50 and over accounted for more than two-fifths of all firefighter deaths over the five-year period, although they represent only one-fifth of all career and volunteer firefighters in the United States.
The 35 volunteer firefighters who died in 2011 were the fewest reported in this study in a single year, maintaining the general downward trend seen since 1999. The 21 career firefighters who died last year were the fewest career firefighters to die in a single year, matching the total reported in 1993.
NFPA standards and other efforts focused on firefighter health and safety
NFPA has several standards that focus on the health risks to firefighters. For example, NFPA 1582, Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, outlines for fire departments the medical requirements that candidate firefighters and incumbent fire department members must meet. NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, calls for fire departments to establish a firefighter health and fitness program that meets the requirements of NFPA 1583, Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members, and requires that firefighters meet the medical requirements of NFPA 1582.
Information on developing a wellness-fitness program is available from other organizations, such as the IAFC/IAFF Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative and the National Volunteer Fire Council’s Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program. The Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program was launched in 2003 to address heart attack prevention for all firefighters and EMS personnel, through fitness, nutrition, and health awareness.
This NFPA study focuses on the fire deaths that are directly associated with specific on-duty activities and does not track the effects of long-term exposure to toxic products that might occur during an individual’s time in the fire service. NIOSH has undertaken a multi-year study to examine firefighters’ cancer risks, using health records of approximately 18,000 current and retired career firefighters from suburban and large city fire departments. Results should be available in 2013. More information about the project is available on the NIOSH website: www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/cancerStudy.html.
NFPA also publishes several standards related to road safety issues. NFPA 1002, Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications, identifies the minimum job performance requirements for firefighters who drive and operate fire apparatus, in both emergency and nonemergency situations. NFPA 1451, Fire Service Vehicle Operations Training Program, provides for the development of a written vehicle operations training program, including the organizational procedures for training, maintaining vehicles, and identifying equipment deficiencies. NFPA 1911, Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, details a program to ensure that fire apparatus are serviced and maintained to keep them in safe operating condition. And NFPA 1901, Automotive Fire Apparatus, addresses vehicle stability to prevent rollovers and gives manufacturers options on how to provide the required stability. New vehicles will have their maximum speed limited, based on their weight, and will have vehicle data recorders to monitor, among other things, acceleration, deceleration, and seatbelt use.
NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, requires that operators successfully complete an approved driver training program, possess a valid driver’s license for the class of vehicle, and operate the vehicle in compliance with applicable traffic laws. All vehicle occupants must be seated in approved riding positions and secured with seatbelts before drivers move the apparatus, and drivers must obey all traffic signals and signs and all laws and rules of the road, including coming to a complete stop when encountering red lights, stop signs, stopped school buses with flashing warning lights, blind intersections and other intersection hazards, and unguarded railroad grade crossings. Passengers must be seated and belted securely, and must not release or loosen seatbelts for any reason while the vehicle is in motion.
In related efforts, the USFA has formed partnerships with the IAFF, the NVFC, and the IAFC to focus attention on safety while responding in emergency apparatus. Details can be found on www.usfa.dhs.gov/fireservice/research/safety/vehicle.shtm.
The focus of vehicle safety programs should not be exclusively on fire department apparatus, since, over the years, personal vehicles have been the vehicles most frequently involved in road crashes. NFPA 1500 requires fire departments to establish specific rules, regulations, and procedures relating to the operation of private vehicles in an emergency mode if any of their members are authorized to respond to incidents or to fire stations in private vehicles. NFPA 1451, Fire Service Vehicle Operations Training Program, also requires training for firefighters who use their own vehicles.
Requirements are also in effect for emergency personnel operating on roadways. The 2009 version of the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) requires anyone working on a roadway to wear an ANSI 107-compliant high-visibility vest. An exemption created for firefighters and others engaged on roadways allows them to wear NFPA-compliant retroreflective turnout gear when directly exposed to flames, heat, and hazardous material. NFPA 1500 requires firefighters working on traffic assignments where they are endangered by motor vehicle traffic to wear clothing with fluorescent and retroreflective material and to use fire apparatus in a blocking position to protect them. The 2009 edition of NFPA 1901 requires that ANSI 207-compliant breakaway high-visibility vests be carried on all new fire apparatus, and MUTCD 2009 allows emergency responders to use them in lieu of ANSI 107-compliant apparel. Advice on compliance with the updated federal rules can be found at www.respondersafety.com/.
NFPA 1901 also requires reflective striping for improved visibility on new apparatus and a reflective chevron on the rear of fire apparatus. Advice on how to improve visibility of existing apparatus can be found at www.respondersafety.com/MarkedAndSeen.aspx.
In August 2010, NFPA’s Standards Council established the Technical Committee for Traffic Control Incident Management. The technical committee will have jurisdiction over documents that address professional qualifications for emergency responders in relation to their operations on roadways. A proposed document, NFPA 1091, Traffic Control Incident Management Professional Qualifications, would identify the minimum job performance requirements necessary to undertake temporary traffic control duties at emergencies on or near an active roadway.
There were 61 on-duty firefighter deaths in 2011, which is, for the second consecutive year, the lowest total since NFPA began this study in 1977. The total number of deaths has been below 100 for six of the last 10 years, and the annual average has dropped to 91 deaths per year, based on the past 10 years.
Although the total number of on-duty deaths has dropped significantly in each of the past two years, the number of cardiac-related deaths has not decreased as dramatically. The number of such deaths has been remarkably stable since 2005, with between 34 and 40 deaths annually. Though only 31 sudden cardiac deaths occurred in 2011, they still accounted for approximately 50 percent of the total number of deaths.
The number of crash deaths continues to be lower than the average, with only four deaths due to road vehicle crashes in 2011. This is the lowest total observed in the study since 1977. Historically, crashes have been the number-two cause of on-duty firefighter deaths, with most of them involving road vehicles. Over the past 10 years, the number of deaths in road vehicle crashes has averaged 14 a year, ranging from the low of four in 2011 to a high of 25 in 2003 and 2007. With nine deaths in 2009 and 2010, and four in 2011, it is possible that safe driving efforts have begun to take hold. It will be very important to see if this trend continues.
The 30 deaths on the fire ground in 2011 is close to the 10-year average of 31, although it is a sharp increase over the 21 deaths in 2010. Deaths on the fire ground continue to be a concern, because traumatic deaths in recent years while operating inside structures have occurred at rates higher than reported in the 1970s and 1980s, although the number of fires has been decreasing. The rates for fire ground deaths in 2011 will be calculated when the number of 2011 structure fires is reported in September.
This study is made possible by the cooperation and assistance of the United States fire service, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program of the Department of Justice, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the United States Fire Administration, the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The authors would also like to thank Carl E. Peterson, retired from NFPA’s Public Fire Protection Division, and Thomas Hales, MD, MPH, of CDC-NIOSH, for their assistance.
Rita F. Fahy, Ph.D., is manager of Fire Databases and Systems in the Fire Analysis and Research Division at NFPA. Paul R. LeBlanc is a fire data assistant at NFPA and a lieutenant with the Boston, Massachusetts, Fire Department. Joseph L. Molis is a fire data assistant at NFPA and a lieutenant with the Providence, Rhode Island, Fire Department.
2011 Firefighter Fatality Narratives
Ice Rescue Training
A 46-year-old firefighter/paramedic suffered sudden cardiac death during an ice rescue training exercise.
At 8 a.m., 20 firefighters met at the fire station and prepared for an ice rescue training session. The temperature outside was 26 F (-3 C) with 13 inches (33 centimeters) of fresh snow.
After preparations were complete, they drove their apparatus to a staging area near a frozen, river-fed pond that was to be used in the training. During the first hour, they practiced sled-based ice rescue as the victim, who was dressed in civilian clothing, watched from shore. After this segment of training was finished, the firefighter/paramedic put on an ice rescue suit weighing approximately 10 pounds (5 kilograms), entered the water, and swam to the training location. After an hour of this training, the firefighters left the pond and made their way back to the staging area by either climbing a steep bank covered with snow or walking about 400 feet (122 meters) through deep snow. The victim chose to walk the 400 feet (122 meters) through the deep snow.
As he was approaching the staging area, the firefighter/paramedic complained of shortness of breath and lay down in the snow. His fellow firefighters immediately gave him first aid and carried him on a stretcher to the rescue unit as he began to lose consciousness and exhibit seizure-like symptoms. By the time he got to the rescue unit, he was unresponsive, not breathing, and had no pulse. Paramedics started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), attached a cardiac monitor, and administered one shock with a defibrillator, all with no results.
An ambulance arrived, and he was taken to the hospital’s emergency department. On the way, he was intubated, an intravenous line was inserted, and cardio resuscitation medications were administered. Three additional shocks from the defibrillator were also applied, with no success.
Advanced life support continued in the emergency room until the doctor pronounced the victim dead at approximately 12:18 p.m. The death certificate and autopsy listed the cause of death as coronary artery atherosclerosis.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201103.html?source=govdelivery.
Trapped in Apartment Building Fire
At 7:18 p.m., the 911 call center received a telephone call from an occupant reporting a fire in the six-unit apartment building in which she lived. The building, which was part of a larger complex, was a three-story, wood-frame structure with a brick veneer that had a ground floor area of 2,000 square feet (186 square meters). The fire began when food was left cooking unattended in the kitchen of a first-floor apartment, and fire spread throughout the apartment, out the patio doors, and up the exterior of the building to a second-story apartment. It also spread into the common hallway and up to the third floor.
Four engine companies, two aerial ladder companies, one floodlight unit, a medic unit, and a chief officer were initially dispatched to the scene. When the first engine company arrived, crew members reported smoke showing, and an additional engine company and rescue unit were dispatched. During rescue operations, one occupant was rescued over a ground ladder from the third floor, and another was taken, unconscious, from the second story of the building.
An acting officer and a firefighter, both dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE) including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), entered the building and made their way to the third floor to search the area above the apartment of origin. As they did, fire conditions deteriorated, and there was a rapid build-up of heat and thick, black smoke. The firefighter, who was searching a bedroom, was able to escape out a window and slide down a ground ladder using a headfirst bailout maneuver. However, the acting officer became trapped and initiated a “Mayday” 25 minutes after the first company arrived on scene. While trying to find a way out, he continued to communicate as conditions worsened. At some point, a flashover occurred.
Rescue efforts were made simultaneously from the front and rear of the building, as firefighters used hand lines to extinguish the fire. A firefighter climbed a ground ladder to the apartment the acting officer had been searching and found him in the living room.
Paramedics performed advanced life support immediately and during transport to the hospital, and doctors made additional efforts at the emergency department for 45 minutes before he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was listed as thermal injuries.
Drowned in Lake
At 5:30 p.m., four firefighters were dispatched to rescue a 73-year-old man who had fallen from a small boat while fishing at a lake on private property. When they arrived, they saw another man in the boat approximately 100 feet (30 meters) from shore trying to keep the head of the unconscious man above water.
Two of the firefighters, who were dressed in street clothes, entered the water and began swimming toward the boat. However, one of them came out of the water almost immediately because it was so cold—only 55oF (13oC). The other firefighter, who was 33 years old, kept swimming until he realized something was wrong and shouted for help. He went under the water, surfaced, and submerged again.
While a civilian entered the water and rescued the firefighter, other units from the fire department reached the boat and rescued the two men. They started CPR and advanced life saving measures immediately on the firefighter and the man in the water and took them to an emergency room, where they were pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed that the firefighter died as a result of asphyxia due to drowning. The man who fell from the boat also drowned.
Struck by Motor Vehicle
At 12 noon, firefighters and apparatus were fighting a wind-driven fire in a pasture of native grass that the fire department reported had started when strong winds brought electric lines into contact with each other and the resulting sparks ignited the grass. Five water tankers were supplying water for five brush trucks.
As the fire approached the tankers and conditions deteriorated, the firefighters decided to leave the area. During their escape, however, one brush truck blocked another at the gated entrance to the pasture. The firefighters on the two trucks, who were experiencing extreme heat, near-zero visibility from the thick smoke, and high winds, were afraid for their lives, so they jumped off the apparatus and ran for safety.
After the fire had burned through the area, firefighters found the body of the man who had been driving the brush truck that was blocked by the other truck not far away in a ditch along the road. The autopsy report listed the cause of death as massive blunt force trauma consistent with being struck or run over by a motor vehicle. The fire department believes that he was hit by another piece of fire apparatus leaving the area. Five other firefighters sustained burns of varying degrees.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201109.html.
Dies After Rope Training
A 35-year-old firefighter with 17 months service died at 9:30 p.m. as a result of a fall after participating in a two-day, eight-hour rope skills training session at the firehouse.
The drill was finished and the students were starting to put the gear away when the victim, who was dressed in civilian clothes with no PPE, started to climb one of the ropes, which was still attached to an aerial platform that had been used in the drill. The platform was located on the fire station apron and was elevated 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) in the air.
As the firefighter reached for another rope, the instructor and the chief shouted to him to stop and get down. At that point, he lost his grip on the rope and fell head first 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) to the concrete apron. First aid was immediately administered, and he was taken to the hospital, where he died.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201112.html?source=govdelivery.
Trapped in a Burning Church
One firefighter died when he became trapped in a church that had been hit by lightning and set ablaze.
The fire department received the call to the wood-frame church, which had a ground floor area of 5,000 square feet (465 square meters), at 3:53 p.m. On arrival, firefighters saw light smoke and fire coming from the roof. A second alarm was sounded once command was established, and all available tankers were requested because there were no hydrants in the area.
While seven firefighters dressed in full PPE and SCBA advanced a hand line through the front door, two others, also dressed in PPE and SCBA, were sent to place ladders against the structure and make openings to allow the smoke to ventilate. Inside the church, the space was free of smoke except for a slight haze at the ceiling level, so the interior crew had pulled some of the ceiling down and directed water on the fire. Soon, however, the officer reported seeing too much fire and ordered the crew out of the building. The roof collapsed before they could act.
At 4:10 p.m., everyone was ordered to the front of the church for an accountability check, where the incident commander discovered that one firefighter was missing. A rapid intervention team tried unsuccessfully to reach the downed man, and attempts to reach him through different entrances were blocked by the fire. After the fire was knocked down, firefighters recovered the victim’s body from under roof debris. The cause of death was smoke and soot inhalation.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201114.html?source=govdelivery.
Struck by Collapsing Wall
A firefighter died when the wall of a burning building collapsed, trapping him under debris.
The fire department dispatched 15 firefighters in three engines and the fire chief’s vehicle at 3:15 p.m., after receiving a report of a fire in a 96-year-old building that, with two other buildings, occupied an entire city block. The two-story building had masonry walls, a flat wood roof, wood floor joists embedded in the walls, and a steel beam supporting the second level joists, with two additions extending to the rear. The building was also equipped with bracing that used tie rods with star-shaped anchor plates to keep the masonry wall from bowing laterally. The original structure housed an antique shop and faced the street; the additions contained storage and living quarters. The building, which covered 14,600 square feet (1,356 square meters) of ground floor area, had no sprinklers.
The first officer arrived on scene at 3:19 p.m. and staged the engine at the right front corner of the building. Seeing smoke rising in a large column and pushing out from cracks around the windows, he instructed two firefighters to pull a 1 3/4-inch (45-millimeter) hose line to the front door to be used as an attack line. Two other firefighters pulled a section of 5-inch (125-millimeter) supply line and connected it to a hydrant and the engine.
At this point, the owner asked the lieutenant if he would go just inside the door to get two boxes. The lieutenant, who was not wearing his SCBA, managed to retrieve one of the boxes, but when he tried to get the second one, conditions had worsened and he was unable to re-enter the building. When the hand line was used, dark brown smoke rolled from the building, reducing visibility even more.
After a discussion with the firefighters, the lieutenant told them to knock out three large, plate-glass windows, which increased the amount of smoke coming from the building, and conduct defensive operations from the sidewalk. The second engine company staged at the right rear corner of the building and ran two hand lines, while two additional hand lines were run off the first engine. Two arriving firefighters also removed a 35-foot (10-meter) ground ladder from the first engine company and placed it on the right side of the building to open windows for ventilation.
When the chief arrived, command was transferred to him, and he maintained defensive operations. At 3:25 p.m., he requested mutual aid and received an aerial ladder, a fire chief, and five firefighters. The aerial ladder was placed at the right rear corner of the building, where the two chiefs met and saw a large vertical crack running up the building’s wall. They agreed to maintain the defensive operation.
As the fire vented through the roof and continued to grow, it burned through power lines, causing them to fall to the ground on the right side of the building and ignite a utility pole and the vinyl siding on the exposure. A deck gun was put into operation to protect the exposure, and the aerial ladder master stream directed water onto the roof of the antique shop.
When one of the chiefs saw the ground ladder against the right side of the building, he said that it should be removed, and two firefighters, who were standing near him, went to take it down. As they were lowering the ladder, the wall collapsed outward, hitting the firefighter between the ladder and building and knocking him down. The other firefighter tried to grab him, then spun around, and moved across the alley, managing to avoid the falling debris.
Firefighters immediately removed the victim from the collapse zone, rendered first aid, and transported him to the local hospital emergency room. He was transferred by air ambulance to a trauma hospital, where he later died of blunt cranio-cerebral injury. No other injuries were reported.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201115.html.
Overrun by Wildfire
Two firefighters died when they were unable to outrun a wildfire ignited by a lightning strike.
After four days of containment, a wildfire broke through the lines, and nine firefighters already in the area, including two tractor/plow operators, responded. During the initial operating period, one of the tractor/plows became stuck in a dry pond, and the firefighter driving it called for help. The firefighter operating the other tractor/plow responded, but soon became stuck among a number of large stumps.
With the fire rapidly approaching them, the two firefighters left the tractor/plows and tried to escape. At 2:50 p.m., however, the fire overran them, and they died of burns. Two other firefighters sustained minor injuries while trying to save the victims, both of whom had fire shelters they did not deploy.
At 7:45 a.m., at the end of a 24-hour shift, a 35-year-old firefighter was found in his bunk, unresponsive and without a pulse. During the shift, he had been assigned to a two-person rescue unit that had responded to 10 emergency medical calls. The unit returned from its last call at 6:08 a.m., and he was last seen at 6:15 a.m. before retiring to the dormitory.
Paramedics immediately started CPR, attached a heart monitor/defibrillator, established intravenous in both arms, intubated him, and used a bag valve mask for ventilations as they rushed him to the hospital. Despite their efforts and those of the hospital staff, the firefighter died. The nature of his death was listed as atherosclerotic coronary artery disease. He had been under the care of a cardiologist and had not complained of feeling unwell during his last shift.
A fire lieutenant with 27 years of service died while performing routine maintenance on a department vehicle. He had been put in charge of vehicle maintenance for the department early in his career and performed the repairs and record keeping. Although he was not a formally trained vehicle mechanic, he had worked on construction equipment and had a part-time job in a small vehicle repair shop.
At 12:30 p.m., after speaking with another member of the fire department, the lieutenant went to change the oil on a newly acquired SUV parked outside the rear of the station. He used a 3½-ton (3.175-tonne) portable hydraulic jack to raise the vehicle and positioned himself under it on a creeper to remove the oil drain plug. Before he could start to remove the plug, however, the jack failed and the SUV fell on him. At 12:45 p.m., a firefighter went to speak with the lieutenant and found him under the vehicle. He ran into the station and got the on-duty crew, which tried to raise the vehicle with the hydraulic jack. When that proved unsuccessful, someone retrieved a hydraulic spreader from one of the apparatus and used it to raise the vehicle off the lieutenant.
He was pulled from under the vehicle, unconscious, not breathing, and without a pulse, and EMS personnel rushed him to the hospital, where he died two days later. The cause of death was asphyxiation due to compression of the torso.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201119.html?source=govdelivery.
A 61-year-old fire lieutenant died when he struck his head after falling from a 6-foot (1.8-meter) step ladder while trying to remove a metal sign from the outside wall of the fire station at approximately 12 p.m. He was working alone and was not discovered until a passerby found his body and called 911.
EMS personnel and deputy sheriffs were dispatched to the call. EMS personnel arrived first and determined that the lieutenant had died as a result of the fall. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
At 7:58 a.m., the local fire department was notified of smoke rising from a silo containing coal used to feed a coal-fired water heating system in an adjoining structure that supplied the community with hot water. The silo, constructed of pre-cast concrete, measured 17 feet by 10 feet (5 meters by 3 meters) and was 50 feet (15 meters) tall. It could hold 175 tons (159 tonnes) of coal, but contained only 120 tons (109 tonnes) at the time of the incident.
Responding firefighters decided to empty the silo to extinguish the fire. They managed to remove 80 tons (73 tonnes) of coal and doused the flames with a mixture of 1,500 gallons (5,678 liters) of water and Class A foam before taking a break, thinking they had brought the fire under control.
After their break, the firefighters noticed that the fire had flared up. In hopes of bringing it back under control, a 20-year-old crew member and his 21-year-old colleague used a boom lift that had been used earlier to gain access to the roof of the bin to deploy a 1¾-inch (45-millimeter) handheld hose line. After they had applied water for approximately three to four minutes, the explosion occurred, killing them instantly.
The cause of death was trauma. A third firefighter who was in the hot water boiler room sustained a broken rib and multiple bruises.
Struck by Automobile
A 45-year-old firefighter driving to the school where she taught fifth grade died when she was struck by a car at the scene of a motor vehicle crash.
She came across the crash, in which a tractor trailer truck had rear-ended a van, at 7:30 a.m. She stopped, called 911 to report the crash and went to check on the individuals involved, none of whom were injured. The driver of the tractor trailer gave her a non-certified reflective traffic vest that she immediately put on, and she began directing traffic in the center of the intersection.
Several minutes later, she was hit by a passing car and thrown to the side of the road. She was flown by helicopter to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead a short time later. The cause of death is listed as multiple blunt force injuries and trauma. Factors contributing to her death were speed, darkness, and poor visibility.
Fall from Bridge
A 60-year-old firefighter with seven years service died as a result of traumatic injuries he sustained when he fell from a bridge at 2 a.m. while responding in thick fog to a report of fire in a large pile of railroad ties. He and a lieutenant stopped on the bridge in the area where the fire was supposed to be and used it as a platform to search for the blaze. In zero visibility, they walked in different directions until the lieutenant became concerned that he could no longer hear his partner. After searching for him unsuccessfully, the lieutenant called for help.
Firefighters saw light shining from the firefighter’s flashlight below the bridge and recovered his body. It is not known how or why he fell from the bridge.