2014 Firefighter Fatality Incidents

Fireboat maintenance

On January 6, a firefighter with 20 years of service and assigned to the marine unit was working his regular shift. The 62-year-old firefighter, dressed in multiple layers of clothing to keep warm, was winterizing the fire/rescue boats and a barge for the extremely cold weather. The fire/rescue boats were trailered and a barge served as their fire station at the marina.

Shortly after midnight, the firefighter, who suffered from diabetes, developed difficulty breathing and called 911. Firefighters and paramedics arrived to find him in cardiac arrest. They immediately began medical assistance and transported him to a nearby medical facility. He was subsequently transferred to a hospital in critical condition where he remained until he died eight days later from a myocardial infarction.

Incendiary apartment house fire

On January 26, an engine company arrived at the scene of a fire in an occupied six-unit apartment building. The company was staffed with a fire officer and three firefighters and arrived approximately six minutes after dispatch. The original building was Type III construction built in 1877, but several additions were added at an unknown date using Type IV construction.

The officer and two firefighters placed a ladder to a second-story apartment window and advanced their 1.75-inch (44-millimeter) uncharged hoseline up the ladder and into the window five minutes after arriving on scene. The crew advanced the hoseline into the hallway, passing another engine company as it entered the building using a door from a small deck on the roof of one of the additions. The crew then headed down a hallway in zero visibility. The officer requested his hose line be charged with water, and the firefighter on the nozzle began directing the stream towards the ceiling. The second engine company that was near the doorway also began spraying water onto the flames and thick, acrid black smoke along the ceiling.

Five minutes after entering the second floor, a dramatic fire event occurred, resulting in three maydays called from the engine company. The first mayday was from a firefighter on the hoseline. Ten seconds later, a second mayday was called by the officer, who was able to back out of the door near the backup line and second engine company. The third mayday was called less than a minute later by one of the firefighters on the hoseline. The incident commander immediately called for additional resources and acknowledged and began managing the mayday.

A dedicated rapid intervention team was deployed to the second floor and located the first firefighter and removed him from the structure within 14 minutes after the first mayday. The second firefighter was located and removed from the building 24 minutes after the mayday was called. The firefighters were transported to the hospital where they both died. The cause of death for both was thermal burns and carbon monoxide exposure. Rapid fire progression was reported as preventing their escape. During the rapid fire development on the second story, the backup firefighter’s radio was keyed up, but there was no transmission.

One of the firefighters was 42 years old with 16 years of service. The second firefighter was 31 with four months of service on this fire department and 10 years with another. The fire was determined to be incendiary and the owner of the property was arrested and is awaiting trial.

NIOSH investigated this incident and offered recommendations.

Airplane crash

On January 31, a pilot scheduled to fly a routine fire detection route called in sick. A back-up pilot with eight years of service was called on the morning of the flight. He agreed to fly the route using a single-engine aircraft registered to and operated by the state forestry commission. The back-up pilot arrived at the airport at noon to check the weather and preflight the airplane.

At 12:40 p.m., the pilot began his fire detection flight using a predetermined flight route. He reported his flight progress to the dispatch center that monitored his approximate location. At 1:11 p.m., the pilot reported his location to the dispatch. This would be the last radio transmission from the pilot.
After not hearing from the pilot for 30 minutes, dispatch attempted to contact him. Not succeeding, dispatch notified the Federal Aviation Administration’s Flight Service Station and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center of an overdue airplane.

Due to the rugged terrain and weather hampering the rescue operations, the crash site was not located for 11 days. It took another day to cut a roadway through three miles of thick forest from the main road to the crash site. Evidence showed that the airplane struck trees on a ridgeline before impacting the ground. A section of the left wing was found on top of the ridgeline. The cause of death was reported as multiple injuries due to the aircraft crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

Struck by motor vehicle

On the evening of February 10, the fire department received approximately 650 calls to respond to motor vehicle crashes due to the inclement weather. The weather at the time included cloudy conditions with light precipitation, fog, and temperatures dropping below freezing. At 8 p.m., the fire department responded with a complement of two pumpers, one ladder truck, and one rescue vehicle to the overpass of the highway complex.

A 40-year-old firefighter with 14 years of service arrived on the first piece of apparatus. He was assisting a stranded motorist whose car had crashed into bridge barrier walls. The firefighter crossed over a protective barrier when he was struck by another vehicle. The firefighter, dressed in a turn-out coat, trousers, boots, and helmet, was thrown from the overpass and fell 56 feet (17 meters) below onto an underpass. Blunt force trauma from the fall was listed as the cause of death.
Contributing factors leading up to the incident were icy weather conditions, inadequate scene/traffic management, a firefighter operating in an unprotected zone, and an inattentive motorist.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has investigated this incident but as of this writing has not yet published its report.

Balcony collapse

On February 22 at 4:41 a.m., the fire department was notified by a 911 call for a roof collapse at a student housing complex that the university built in 1956. The fire alarm dispatched a full first alarm assignment supplemented by a special additional assignment for more equipment and firefighters. The first company on-scene had a crew of a lieutenant and two firefighters. The officer and one of the firefighters walked around the structure and reported that nothing was showing and requested a verification on the address.

The two-story building of ordinary construction contained 12 apartments, six on each level, all accessible from the outside. The second level apartments were accessible from an open balcony that had a flight of exterior stairs on either end of the building. Eighteen people lived in the apartments at the time of the incident.

The fire alarm verified the address and the apartment the call had come from. The lieutenant and the firefighter, accompanied by a university police officer, went up exterior stairs to the second story balcony. The firefighter and police officer stopped to talk to the occupants of one apartment while the lieutenant continued walking along the balcony, banging on doors as he headed to the other end of the building.

The second firefighter who stayed with the apparatus noticed what appeared to be gravel or rocks falling from under the balcony. The firefighter, understanding what was happening, jumped from the apparatus and yelled at the lieutenant to get off the balcony because it was going to collapse. At that moment, the firefighter and the police officer heard a loud bang and saw the balcony progressively collapsing toward them. All three saw the lieutenant fall and land on his back. The balcony then fell from the wall onto the lieutenant.

The balcony was 4 inches (100 millimeters) thick and was constructed of a 1.5-inch (38-millimeter) painted metal form deck with 2.5 inches (64 millimeters) of concrete, supported on a steel ledger angle attached to the building and a 9-inch (230-millimeter) painted steel channel beam along the outer edge. The collapse occurred when the outer edge of the balcony failed, causing the balcony to swing down like a pendulum, strike the building and then fall away from the building and onto the lieutenant.

The firefighter and police officer ran back down the stairs to the lieutenant. First aid was started immediately after he was extricated. He was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was traumatic compressional asphyxia.

NIOSH investigated this incident and offered recommendations.

Air management training

On March 7, the 51-year-old fire captain, fully dressed in his personal protective equipment including his self-contained breathing apparatus, participated in the fire department’s rules of air management training. The training required the fire captain to carry a 50-foot (15-meter) section of 2.5-inch (64-millimeter) hose up five stories, back down to the ground level, and then repeat it with his crew.

The captain, who had 19 years of service, collapsed within a minute of completing the second climb. A nearby firefighter reacted immediately and found the captain with a pulse and rapid breathing but not responsive. The firefighter made a radio request for an ambulance and additional assistance as his crew carried the captain into an apparatus bay.

A cardiac monitor attached to the captain revealed ventricular tachycardia (a heart rhythm incompatible with life) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation and advanced life support (ALS) were started. ALS consisted of defibrillation, oxygen administration via bag-valve-mask, and cardiac resuscitation medications delivered via the intraosseous route. The captain was shocked four times while en route to a hospital emergency department. Although his pulse returned briefly, he never regained consciousness. After two and a half hours of extensive efforts, the captain was pronounced dead. The cause of death was listed as hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

NIOSH investigated this incident and offered recommendations.

Establishing a water supply

On April 21 at 11 p.m., the county 911 center received a call for a fire in a vacant single-family residence. The fire department with mutual aid was immediately dispatched. At 11:11 p.m., the first piece of apparatus, a pumper, arrived and was positioned directly in front of the building. Shortly afterward, a mobile water supply apparatus (tanker) arrived at the scene and established water supply to the pumper. Firefighters made an initial attack to the exterior wall and the front entry area.

The chief observed the heat and smoke conditions building up inside and ordered everyone out of the building and to change from an offensive to defensive mode. The chief also observed that the tanker’s water supply was getting low. He grabbed the 4-inch (100-millimeter) supply hose and started to drag it towards the nearest fire hydrant that was 300 feet (100 meters) away. The tanker operator also began dragging the supply line, but was ordered by the chief to connect the line to the pumper. After connecting the supply hose to the pumper, the tanker operator radioed the chief to let him know that he was ready for the water. The chief did not respond. After two or three more attempts on the radio, the firefighter went to assist the chief and found him collapsed at the hydrant.

Firefighters on scene immediately began cardio-pulmonary-resuscitation, and the chief was flown by helicopter to a hospital where medical staff was unable to resuscitate him. The cause of death was listed as atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease. Contributing factors were diabetes and obesity.

Training exercise

On May 30 at 6 a.m., a 58-year-old firefighter arrived at the station and started his shift at 7 a.m., participating in routine station and apparatus maintenance. He and another crew member began cutting the grass using a push mower, but he was interrupted by a response to a medical call. The call was so minor that the firefighter was not required to leave his chauffeur’s position on the apparatus. On returning to the station, he and the other firefighter finished cutting the grass, which took approximately half an hour.

At 1 p.m., the firefighter and his crew went to the training academy to participate in the annual physical ability test. There were eight untimed tasks to accomplish in the physical ability test, including the tire drag, wall climb, hose drag, carrying a high-rise pack to the roof and hoisting/lowering a high-rise pack, ground ladder extension, ceiling push/pull (simulating overhaul), tower climb, and crawl. The firefighter was the first to do the tasks, completing them in about nine minutes. He joked and mingled with his crew, exhibiting no physical distress. The weather at this time was 69 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), with 59 percent humidity.

At approximately 2 p.m., the firefighter and a fellow crew member started the maze exercise. The maze was constructed of several obstacles and was built in a large metal shipping container. The firefighters were to navigate the course in full protective clothing including their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). About eight minutes into the course, the firefighter started breathing heavily and removed his SCBA regulator. The crewmate asked him how he was doing. He stated that he had to take a break and sit down. They continued a short distance toward a set of stairs. The crewmember helped the firefighter up the stairs to a platform where he collapsed.

The crewmember banged on the metal walls of the container, alerting the rest of the company members. The firefighter was removed from the container and was immediately attended to by an ambulance crew who were also training at the academy. A cardiac monitor placed on the firefighter showed ventricular fibrillation. The firefighter was defibrillated; an intravenous line was inserted and cardiac resuscitation medications administered. The firefighter was transported to a hospital where the staff worked on him for an additional 28 minutes without success and he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was listed as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

An autopsy showed severe coronary artery atherosclerosis, cardiomegaly, and left ventricular hypertrophy.

NIOSH investigated this incident and offered recommendations.

Pack test

On May 17, a 63-year-old wildland fire crew supervisor was performing a work capacity test (more commonly known as a pack test) to get his red card. Passing the pack test would certify the individual to perform fire suppression on private, state, and federal wildland property. The work capacity test requires an individual to complete a three-mile walk within 45 minutes while wearing a 45-pound (20-kilogram) weighted vest.

After four laps around the track (approximately one mile or 1.6 km), the supervisor grabbed his left leg and collapsed. He was found unresponsive, not breathing, and with a faint pulse. His pulse stopped a few seconds later. An ambulance was requested and cardiopulmonary resuscitation started. Breathing with a weak pulse returned, but only briefly. An automated external defibrillator (AED) was brought from the vehicle of a responding police officer. The AED did not work, so another was brought to the scene by the local fire department. One shock was administered approximately 11 minutes after the supervisor’s collapse, with no change to his condition.

The ambulance arrived with paramedics who provided advanced life support including defibrillation, intubation, and intraosseous line placement. They administered two additional shocks while transporting the supervisor with still no change in his condition. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation and advanced life support continued for 11 minutes in the emergency department at the hospital until he was pronounced dead.

The death certificate listed the cause of death as an acute myocardial infarction caused by hypertension, type II diabetes mellitus, and morbid obesity. Investigators concluded the physical exertion associated with the pack test initiated a probable myocardial infarction and his sudden cardiac death.

NIOSH investigated this incident and offered recommendations.

Apparatus crash

On June 19, the 43-year-old fire chief with 27 years of service picked up the pumper at a repair shop and was driving it back to his fire station. The shop had performed work on the pumper’s water system. It was approximately 9 p.m. and the fire chief was driving at an estimated speed of 55 miles per hour (89 kilometers per hour). The roadway was posted for 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) for commercial vehicles.

The front drive train broke, and the chief lost control of the pumper. One of the wheels on the vehicle locked up, causing it to turn in a counter clockwise direction. The pumper crossed the dividing line of the highway into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. The driver of the pickup veered to the right but was unable to avoid crashing into the pumper at the edge of a ditch. The front of the pick-up collided with the passenger side of the fire apparatus near the vehicle’s diesel fuel tank, which ruptured as a result. Multiple callers reported a “fire engine” explosion. Both vehicles came to a rest in the ditch. The pumper came to a stop on its roof with the fire chief trapped inside. He was using a shoulder and lap safety belt. The pickup came to a rest in front of the pumper. Both vehicles became fully involved in the fire.

The pickup truck contained a family of five: a 29-year-old man, a 29-year-old woman, and their three children, a four-year-old boy and three-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. All were killed by blunt force trauma on impact. The adults were wearing seatbelts and the children were not. All three children were ejected from the pick-up. The fire chief died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. The repairs that had been completed on the pumper were not related to the drive train failure.

Returning from a fire

On June 30, a fire captain who had just participated in extinguishing a residential structure fire refilled the 1,000-gallon (3,785-liter) water tank on the fire apparatus and was driving the apparatus back to the fire station on a two-lane highway. The 52-year-old fire captain with 30 years of service had just exited a slight right-hand curve and went off the right side of the highway. He navigated the apparatus back onto the roadway but overcorrected the vehicle, causing it to spin counter clockwise and slide off the left side of the road. The apparatus rolled over, hitting trees before coming to a stop on its roof. The captain, not wearing any restraints, was partially ejected and was partially pinned under the vehicle. He died from his injuries while fellow firefighters attempted to extricate him. Weather conditions were good and it was estimated that he was driving within the speed limit. The cause of death was listed as trauma.


A local fire department was approached in mid-August by a university marching band to participate in an “Ice Bucket Challenge” fund-raising event on campus. The socially conscious fire department agreed to the request as it had in the past with other organizations. The event was scheduled for August 20 but was postponed to the following day due to a thunderstorm. The day of the event was clear and sunny, with temperatures in the 90s and a calm wind.

On August 21 at 10:30 a.m., a detail of two fire captains and two firefighters arrived at the campus on a 95-foot (29-meter) aerial platform apparatus. After meeting with university personnel, a site was selected for the event, which involved using the apparatus to hover over a number of students while spraying them with water from a fog nozzle. The fire personnel conducted a safety briefing, noting the location of the hydrant, trees, and power lines.

The fire personnel set up the apparatus by extending the stabilizers, elevating and rotating the platform 90 degrees off the right side of the apparatus, and connecting the hose to a water supply. One of fire captains and one of the firefighters were in the bucket of the aerial platform during the event.

Students left the area after they were doused by the fog nozzle and the challenge was completed. The fire personnel began preparing to get the platform back into service. The fire personnel in the bucket raised it too high, however, and the captain came in direct contact with a 69kV power line, causing a large arc. The firefighter then came into contact with the power line, causing a second arc, and the captain came in contact a second time, causing a third arc.

The captain stationed on the ground was on the apparatus when contact was made and was able to jump free and was not injured. The firefighter on the ground was pulling the safety pin on the front driver’s side stabilizer when he felt pain in his legs and back and was forced back away from the apparatus. He radioed dispatch for help and asked to have the electricity shut off. Once the electricity was shut off, he lowered the bucket.

Additional help arrived and the fire captain and firefighter who were on the ground as well as the firefighter in the bucket were sent to a hospital. The captain and firefighter that were on the ground were held for observation and later released. The firefighter who was in the bucket sustained moderate to severe burns and remained in the hospital for nearly one month. The captain who was in the bucket was airlifted to a level-1 trauma center due to the severity of his injuries. He sustained full-thickness burn injuries to more than half of his body. He died 31 days later, after undergoing numerous skin grafts, being placed on dialysis due to a decrease in his kidney function, multiple organ failures, and severe sepsis.


On October 24, a 39-year-old fire captain with 13 years of service was detailed to an out-of-state hazardous-material training exercise. He was late for class and an instructor went to his hotel to check on him. At the hotel, the instructor learned that the captain wasn’t feeling well. The fire captain was transported to the hospital where his condition worsened. On October 27, the fire captain died as a result of influenza.