Published on November 2, 2015.

Ladder truck rollover

Four firefighters suffered lacerations and contusions after the ladder truck they were riding in rolled over. The fire department report cited speed as the primary factor in the crash.

The ladder truck was responding to an emergency medical call, traveling with lights and siren down a hill. As the truck approached a T-junction, the driver tried to make a right- hand turn, but skidded off the roadway and overturned. All members on the apparatus were wearing their seat belts, and were medically cleared to resume firefighting activities in less than 24 hours.

Pumper crash during ice storm

Firefighters were responding to a reported structure fire during an ice storm when the incident was upgraded to a second alarm. A 60-year-old driver, who was alone in a pumper, lost control of the truck on the icy roadway while trying to turn right at a sharp bend in the road. The truck slid off the road, striking a tree head-on and pinning the driver in the cab. The driver was wearing his seatbelt.

The incident was downgraded several minutes after the crash, allowing other units to divert and respond. The driver was conscious and alert throughout the extrication and was taken to the hospital by an advanced life support ambulance. He suffered lacerations, contusions, and sprains and strains. He was cleared to resume firefighting activities two weeks after the crash.

Cardiac event at residential fire

A 33-year-old firefighter was injured and remains unable to perform firefighting activities more than a year after he was injured at the scene of a fire in a one-story, 1,500-square-foot (139-square-meter), single-family house.

After a quick knockdown of the fire, the firefighter, who had six years’ experience, began pulling drywall ceilings with a pike pole. He was wearing a full structural firefighting protective ensemble and using his self-contained breathing apparatus when he suddenly collapsed. Fellow firefighters dragged him onto the front lawn, where he was treated for cardiac arrest before being transported to the emergency room by an advanced life support ambulance.

He was revived in the emergency room and hospitalized for 12 days. He is still waiting to be cleared for firefighting activities by his physician. This department does not have a medical monitoring or physical fitness program and did not report that the firefighter had any history of heart trouble.

Fall through church ceiling

A 52-year-old company officer was injured while checking for fire extension in an exposed building during a brush fire.

The fire began when a caretaker using a propane-fueled weed burner unintentionally ignited the grass. The fire spread to a large brush pile and then threatened a church. Workers clearing brush and neighbors using garden hoses had extinguished approximately 90 percent of the fire by the time the fire department arrived, but the remaining fire was against the church. The officer of the engine company called for help fighting a building fire, as there was some minor damage and slight smoke near the eaves.

Firefighters raised a ground ladder to the eave line and pulled off the fascia board to check for fire extension. After visually checking and using a thermal imaging camera, they concluded that the fire had not spread to the church but that they needed mechanical ventilation to remove smoke from the attic. Seven minutes after the company officer and two firefighters entered the attic to place a ventilation fan, one of the men made a mayday call, saying that the officer had fallen through the ceiling and had landed in the church below.

The officer broke his leg in the fall and has not been cleared to resume firefighting activities.

Cardiac arrest on fireground

A 50-year-old firefighter with 12 years’ experience suffered from cardiac arrest while battling a fire in a six-story apartment building of ordinary construction. The fire began on the sixth floor in a bedroom of an apartment under renovation.

When the first-due unit arrived on scene, the occupants were self-evacuating. The first engine and ladder companies made their way up the stairs to the fire floor, while the third engine company, staffed with an officer and two firefighters, walked towards the incident commander. As they did, one of the firefighters collapsed. Crews immediately removed his protective ensemble and began CPR. Within a minute, they attached a defribillator to the unconscious man and administered an electrical shock.

The incident commander immediately requested more resources and adjusted the fireground assignments as crews worked to save the victim. Once his care was transferred to the advanced life support ambulance, the crews were reassigned to firefighting operations.

The victim had responded to two emergencies in the 24 hours before he collapsed, although the types of activity he performed were not reported. The fire department report indicated that factors contributing to his cardiac arrest may have included coronary artery disease, family history, and incident stress. However, the report did not say whether the department physicals or the victim’s personal physician had identified coronary artery disease or if the victim even knew he had coronary problems.

He was hospitalized for a week and is still waiting to be cleared to resume firefighting activities eight months after the incident.

Cardiac arrest following fire rescue

A 42-year-old lieutenant with 14 years’ experience suffered cardiac arrest shortly after rescuing a 72-year-old man from a fire in his sixth-floor apartment at a complex for the elderly. The elderly man had started the fire when he lit a cigarette while on home oxygen.

Upon their arrival at the scene, the lieutenant and a firefighter from a ladder company forced their way into the apartment of origin, found the victim, and carried him to an advanced life support unit that was waiting to take him to the hospital. Moments later, the lieutenant collapsed.

He was hospitalized for the weekend and, nine months later, has yet to be cleared for firefighting activities. He had not complained of illness or chest pains before the fire.

Multiple injuries in ceiling collapse

Eight firefighters were injured when the ceiling of a vacant multi-family home collapsed, burying them under heavy, water-soaked debris.

When firefighters first arrived at the scene, they encountered a fire burning in the front stairwell and the porches of all three floors of the balloon-frame dwelling. The first arriving engine company requested additional resources.

The building had been heavily boarded up, with screwed-in plywood covering all the doors and windows. While several crews removed the plywood, another used a hand line and tower ladder master streams to prevent the fire from spreading to the home’s loft area. Approximately 15 minutes later, they shut the master streams down and entered the structure to extinguish hidden fire in the voids.

Approximately 12 firefighters were performing overhaul duties in a third-floor bedroom next to the front stairwell when a 12-foot-square (3.6-meter-square) section of ceiling collapsed, striking eight of the firefighters, three of whom were buried in the debris.

The sector officer issued a mayday call and deployed a rapid intervention team as several firefighters in the immediate vicinity helped extricate the buried firefighters. None of their injuries were life-threatening, and all eight were released from the hospital after they were treated for their injuries.

Investigators determined that the fire was incendiary in nature and started on the front porch and stairwell. They also cited as contributing factors in the ceiling collapse an inadequate number of screws connecting a newer, plastered sheetrock ceiling to the old plaster ceiling, which had wire lathes, furring strips, and 1 foot (30.5 centimeters) of blown-in insulation on top of it. The insulation also increased weight on the ceiling.

Multiple injuries in wind-driven residential fire

Two firefighters were injured when they became disoriented while fighting a fire that had spread from a pile of mattresses in the backyard of a three-story, multi-family home to the house itself.

When firefighters arrived at the scene, they saw flames rapidly spreading up the back of the wood-frame building toward the eaves, pushed along by winds blowing from the rear towards the front of the building at 20 miles per hour (32.1 kilometers per hour). Within two minutes of their arrival, firefighters requested a second alarm for additional resources.

An engine company entered the first-floor apartment through the front door and deployed a handline into the living room. A second team, consisting of the officer of the first-due ladder company and two members of a heavy rescue team, went up to the second floor to begin a primary search. They reported that conditions on the second floor were “not that bad,” with approximately 6 feet (1.8 meters) of clear visibility under a “layer of grayish brown smoke” and no heat. They could see the kitchen at the rear and could easily crouch under the smoke.

Meanwhile, the firefighter and the officer on the first floor were in the living room when they felt a sudden blast of heat. The firefighter told investigators that the heat intensified, the smoke turned dark black, and visibility was reduced to zero. A second, more intense blast of heat came from the rear of the apartment, driving them backwards. Both firefighters were able to escape the structure.

At approximately the same time, conditions were deteriorating for the three firefighters on the second floor. The officer in charge of the search team radioed the incident commander that the “primary search was complete and they were making their way out of the building.” Seconds later, they were driven to the floor as temperatures rose and visibility dropped. The firefighter in the lead told the other two that he couldn’t find the door they had entered and felt they were lost. They called a mayday, turned on their PASS devices, and began searching for a way out. One of the men found a window and broke it, and they began to bail out of the building. A firefighter on the ground realized that the breaking glass was coming from the second-story window and notified the aerial ladder operator, who repositioned the ladder to the window amid the blinding smoke.

All five of the firefighters involved in the incident were wearing full structural firefighting protective ensembles. Two were injured: one suffered burns to his hands after he removed his gloves to verify that his portable radio was on the correct channel, and another suffered first-degree burns, a concussion, a sprained ankle, and smoke inhalation. They were cleared to resume firefighting activities several weeks later.

The department report cited the wind, which gusted up to 30 miles (48.2 kilometers) per hour, as a major contributing factor to the rapid fire development. The department also praised the crews’ recognition of the mayday calls and the awareness of others on the fireground in removing those in distress from the building.

For more information on wind-driven fires and operations in structure fires, please see the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s report on wind-driven fires.

Struck by falling tree during wildland firefighting operations

A 51-year-old wildland hotshot firefighter suffered severe injuries when he was struck by a falling section of tree.

The firefighter, who had been deployed to the fire line earlier in the day, was clearing brush when he was struck by a section of lodgepole pine. The tree broke off approximately 7 to 8 feet (2.1 to 2.4 meters) from the top, dropping a snag 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter onto the victim’s upper body and head.

Fellow hotshot members found him unconscious and unresponsive, with a fractured skull, a broken jaw, two broken arms, and lacerations and contusions to his upper body. Medical personnel on the team performed c-spine immobilization and prepared him for transport to the hospital.

The injury occurred 9 miles (14.4 kilometers) from the nearest road and 20 miles (32.1 kilometers) from the closest heli-base. It was decided that the victim should be extracted by helicopter longline. Hotshot crews on the ground prepared the victim for transport and carried him 200 feet (60.9 meters) to a prepared extraction site. A helicopter dropped extraction equipment at the site, and hotshot crews attached the victim to a harness to be connected to the longline. Nearly an hour after the incident, the victim was extracted from the fire line and transferred into the helicopter. The helicopter then flew him to a heli-base, where he was transferred to another air ambulance 20 minutes later.

The fire department report did not include information on the outcome of the incident.