Read the main story: Firefighter Fatalities in the United States, 2012
Aerial Ladder Training
On January 6, at 4 p.m., a 49-year-old firefighter with 29 ye.rs of service died during a training session. The drill was conducted at the rear of the fire station during his regular work shift. It involved a 105-foot (45-meter) aerial ladder that was fully extended at a 65-degree angle. The firefighters were dressed in either station or exercise attire during the session. The victim was wearing his station duty trousers, uniform polo shirt, sunglasses, ball cap, and steel-toed work boots. The work boots had moderate tread wear on the heel and toe surfaces. He also wore a ladder safety belt. None of the participants wore helmets.
The training required the four crew members to climb, one at a time, to the top of the ladder. They were to connect to the rung of the ladder with the hook of their safety belt, release their hands and lean back, and then reverse the sequence and climb down. The victim had just released the hook on his safety belt on his second time performing this drill and was starting down when he fell.
The officer and two other firefighters, who all witnessed the fall, began resuscitation efforts immediately and called other firefighters in the station for assistance. The victim was transported to the hospital and shortly after that was pronounced dead from multiple blunt force trauma injuries.
An investigation did not find anything wrong with the aerial ladder or the reason for the fall.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201201.html
Unsupervised Physical Training
On January 18, a 50-year-old firefighter with 20 years of service was working a 24-hour shift. He was the fire apparatus operator (FAO) and had responded to a call earlier in the day. Later in the afternoon he went to the weight room to begin his unsupervised exercise program that included use of the treadmill, a stationary bike, lifting weights, and jumping rope. Two firefighters entered the exercise room two hours later, spoke to him, and left. At that time he did not complain of not feeling well or exhibit signs of medical problems.
Two and one half hours later, a firefighter entered the exercise room and found the FAO lying on the floor unresponsive, not breathing and without a pulse. He notified the officer and dispatch, who notified a medic unit. Oxygen equipment and an automated external defibrillator (AED) were brought from the station as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was begun. The AED was connected and a no shock was advised. As the firefighters continued with CPR it became obvious that livor mortis was present and CPR was discontinued. The medic unit arrived and confirmed the FAO’s death. He was not transported to the hospital.
Ischemic heart disease due to hypertensive and kidney disease and an old myocardial infarction was listed as the cause of death on the death certificate and autopsy report.
The FAO’s risk factors for coronary artery disease included hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol), hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes mellitus, and obesity, all of which had been diagnosed. He had been prescribed medication to reduce and manage these conditions. He had annual medical evaluations, including one two months prior to his death that cleared him for firefighting activities.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201203.html
Thrown from Apparatus
Early on February 13, with the outside temperature at 27°F (–3°C), a 21-year-old firefighter was thrown from a department tanker as it traveled to refill its 1,500-gallon (5,678-liter) tank during a water shuttling process. The victim, who had less than a year’s service, acted as a spotter and successfully guided the driver of the tanker back to the dump tank at the fire scene. He then climbed up on the tailboard and opened the dump valve and filled the dump tank. The driver stayed in his seat, observed the tank-empty light flash and left the fire scene to go to the water source and refill the tank, unaware that the victim had remained on the tailboard.
Another tanker returning to the fire scene from the water source had accidentally dropped approximately 1,500 gallons (5,678 liters) of water on the roadway. The driver reported the water drop to their dispatcher. The driver of the first tanker was using the same road, but didn’t hear the warning and hit black ice that formed from the accidental drop. He lost control of the vehicle, which spun 360 degrees a number of times before going off the road and striking an embankment and traffic sign. The driver, who was also the victim’s father, sustained non-life threatening injuries, and was able to radio for help and crawl out the passenger side door of the vehicle. The victim was found unresponsive on the roadway. He was transported to the hospital where he died later that morning from blunt trauma to the chest, abdomen and extremities.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201206.html.
Single Vehicle Crash
On February 22, at 8 p.m., a pumper staffed by a 24-year-old fire lieutenant and an 18-year-old firefighter responded to a single-family dwelling to investigate a report of carbon monoxide in the building. After determining that the building was safe, they started their return trip back to the station. The two-lane, asphalt road was wet from falling rain. The lieutenant was driving, and the firefighter was sitting in the passenger seat. Both men were using their lap and upper torso restraint-type seatbelts.
Along a straight section of unlit road, the pumper ran off the right side of the road onto the soft shoulder. It continued down a ditch and rolled over half way onto its passenger side, coming to a stop after hitting a utility pole. Substantial damage to the cab trapped the firefighter. The lieutenant sustained non-life threatening injuries and was transported to the hospital where he was treated and later released. The firefighter was pronounced dead at the crash site. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. An investigation did not identify any factors that led to the crash.
On March 4, a fire lieutenant was killed and two firefighters were injured when the roof of the building they were working in collapsed, trapping them inside.
At 12:15 p.m., a police officer on patrol reported a fire in a downtown movie theatre. The officer was also the chief of the victim’s fire department. He evacuated the exposures and returned to the front of the building and verified with the owners, who were on scene, that no one was inside the theatre.
The theatre, a one-story structure with an attic, was of ordinary construction, measured 50 feet by 100 feet (15 meters by 30 meters), and was built in 1948. A bowstring truss system supported the roof. Renovation of the theatre in 1996 added a new ceiling 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) below the existing ceiling.
The first fire company arrived at 12:21 p.m, reported fire showing from the front of the building, and set up to work from that location. A responding mutual-aid company was instructed to go to the rear of the building and work from there. The fire departments attacked the fire from opposite sides of the building, both establishing their own incident commander, accountability system, and fire ground operations. The fire companies in the front of the building initially fought the fire defensively.
The 34-year-old fire lieutenant and two firefighters of the mutual-aid company, dressed in full protective clothing including self-contained breathing apparatus, entered the rear of the building at 12:45 p.m. They did not encounter fire and advanced a charged hose line through the theatre to the back of the lobby where they located fire. The roof collapsed sometime prior to 12:57 p.m., but no mention of collapse or trapped firefighters was relayed to dispatch.
At the time of the fire, the temperature was in the 20°F to 29°F (–6.6°C to –1.6°C) range. There were varying amounts of accumulated snow in the area. Photographs taken during the incident reveal that there could have been up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow and ice on the roof. In additiont, water was sprayed onto the roof from an elevated master stream during suppression operations.
Additional fire companies and EMS units were called to the scene after the roof collapsed. The two firefighters were removed from under debris in the building and transported to the hospitawhere they were treated for fractures, contusions, lung inflammation from fighting the fire, and smoke inhalation. The fire lieutenant was also removed from under debris and was pronounced dead at the scene from smoke inhalation and thermal burns.
The fire was determined to have resulted from an extension cord that had been mechanically damaged when an upholstered chair was placed on it, causing the extension cord to overheat and ignite the chair.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201208.html.
Struck by Vehicle
On March 19, at 10:30 p.m., fire and police units responded to a single-vehicle crash. The crash occurred when a driver swerved to avoid hitting a vehicle that was stopped partly in her lane. Her vehicle crossed the two-lane county highway and slid off the road into a ditch. Before stopping, it struck a natural gas meter and its associated piping, creating a gas leak.
The fire apparatus was staffed by a fire captain and one firefighter. On arrival, the firefighter driving the engine and the police officer driving his patrol car parked their vehicles, with their emergency lights flashing, a short distance before the crash site, blocking their travel lane to protect themselves. The firefighters, dressed in station uniforms with reflective vests, went to the uninjured victim and were able to walk her away from her vehicle and the leaking gas meter. She went across the street and stayed with a witness who stopped to help. The firefighters then went to see if they could shut off the gas. After they realized that they could not stop the flow of gas, the two firefighters and police officer moved upwind along the shoulder of the roadway. They requested that the gas company speed up their response.
A short time later, a van passed the fire engine and police vehicle by driving in the on-coming traffic lane, increased its speed, and drove onto the shoulder, striking the two firefighters and officer. The victim of the original crash was the mother of the van driver. She had telephoned him and told him of the crash.
The 56-year-old fire captain was killed instantly. The impact threw him onto the driveway of a single-family dwelling. The other firefighter was thrown approximately 130 feet (39 meters) and into the front yard of the single-family dwelling on the other side of the driveway, severely injured. The police officer was struck and thrown onto the traffic lane closest to the shoulder where they had been standing.
The police officer was able to radio his dispatcher, describe their situation, and request assistance. Two ambulances were dispatched. The first arrived, and the paramedic performed a rapid patient assessment on the firefighters and police officer. The firefighter, who was severely injured, was stabilized and flown to a Level 1 trauma center. The second ambulance arrived, and the paramedics stabilized the police officer before transporting him to the hospital by ground.
The captain died of multiple traumatic injuries. It was listed as a homicide. The other firefighter and police officer sustained nonfatal traumatic injuries.
NIOSH investigated this incident and offers recommendations on its website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201209.html
On March 20, a 79-year-old firefighter with more than 50 years service died while finishing up a water delivery. As part of the fire department’s duties, it supplies potable water to areas where water is not available. He had just finished a delivery to a storage tank at a sporting club and was preparing to leave when he had a fatal heart attack. Responding EMS and fire personnel administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The nature of death was cardiopulmonary arrest due to, or as a consequence of, hypertensive heart disease.
At 4:24 a.m. on April 7, fire companies were dispatched to a fire in a café. Five minutes later, a pumper with a 39-year-old fire chief and two firefighters arrived at the scene. They immediately advanced a hose line through the main entrance and into the structure, aggressively attacking the fire.
As they fought the blaze, conditions deteriorated, and approximately 40 minutes after the initial alarm, the chief pushed the two firefighters toward the door, saving them as the roof collapsed. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to save the chief. His body was recovered during the investigation, and he was pronounced dead on the scene. The cause of death was determined to be smoke inhalation and thermal burns.
On June 1, lightning ignited a wildland fire in steep, rugged terrain dominated by juniper and pinion-pine trees, sagebrush, and grasses. The fire would ultimately consume approximately 6,300 acres (2549 hectares).
Two days later, two contract pilots flying an air tanker were conducting their second retardant drop over the fire in a valley 0.4 miles (0.6 kilometers) wide. The tanker was following the lead plane, which made a right-hand turn and dropped to an elevation of 150 feet (45 meters) on its final approach, when it crashed into rising terrain that was 700 feet (213 meters) to the left of the lead plane’s flight course.
Both pilots were killed, and the plane was severely damaged from impact and a post-crash fire.
Struck by Tree
On June 29 at 9:45 p.m., a storm with winds of 80 miles (128 kilometers) per hour was blowing through the area. The fire department was dispatched for a fire involving a wooden utility pole with fire spreading to the surrounding woodland.
A 54-year-old fire lieutenant responding from home to the fire station came upon a small fallen tree blocking the main highway and got out of his automobile to help civilians move the tree from the travel lane. As they attempted to move the downed tree, other trees fell, one of which struck the lieutenant on the head. The lieutenant was transported to the hospital, where he died three days later from blunt force trauma injuries to the head.
At 5:30 p.m. on July 1, a military transport aircraft equipped with a self-contained unit used for aerial firefighting crashed while conducting firefighting operations on a wildland fire on public land. The aircraft had a six-member crew, consisting of two pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer, and two loadmasters.
On their third retardant drop, the transport was diverted to another fire, as was the lead airplane.
The lead plane conducted a show-me run that allowed the military aircraft pilot to see the drop path, any hazards, and an escape route. A third airplane arrived, descending to 7,000 feet (2,133 meters), due to more than moderate turbulence. The third plane crew’s responsibilities were to manage air and ground firefighting assets in and around the fire ground. The three planes were warned to give wide berth to a thunderstorm southwest of the fire ground.
The first drop went exactly as planned. As the lead plane and the military aircraft positioned themselves for the second and final drop, however, the managing aircraft encountered severe turbulence, as did the lead plane, which unbeknownst to the crew of the military aircraft lost altitude and airspeed. As the pilot of the lead plane struggled to maintain control, his plane came within 10 feet (3 meters) of the ground and he radioed that he had to “go around,” a term used during misalignments rather than urgent situations. The pilot of the lead plane radioed to the military aircraft to dump its load. There was then some chatter on the intercom and the military aircraft hit the ground. Four members of the crew died in the crash. The two loadmasters survived but sustained significant injuries.
The accident investigation board found that the cause of the crash was the military aircraft crew’s inadequate assessment of operational conditions, which resulted in it flying through a microburst and hitting the ground. The board also found that the crews of the lead plane and managing plane failed to communicate critical operational information and that conflicting operational guidance concerning thunderstorm avoidance contributed to the crash.
For the complete report, visit wildfirelessons.net/documents/White_Draw_Fire_MAFFS_%20Report.pdf
On August 10, a 46-year-old fire captain participating in an advanced diving instruction class drowned. At 2:15 p.m., more than 15 minutes into his second dive, the captain surfaced from approximately 40 feet (12 meters) of water and indicated that he was having a problem. The captain, a certified diver, lost consciousness and submerged under the water. The diving instructor recovered him from a depth of about 60 feet (18 meters) and brought him to the surface, but a medical helicopter crew pronounced him dead at the scene. The cause of death was drowning.
Struck by Tree
On August 12, a 20-year-old firefighter with two years’ experience was struck and killed by a falling tree at a wildland fire. The tree that hit her was 123 feet (37 meters) tall and had a 40-inch (101-centimeter) diameter at breast height. It had struck another tree before hitting the victim, who died instantly as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.
The fire, which started on August 10 in an area of recently harvested trees and deep slash, was called in by a logger at 11:30 a.m. The fire warden who received the alarm, knowing the fire location was in steep terrain, immediately ordered aircraft and other resources, including four helicopters, two single-engine air tankers, bulldozers, three water tenders, three engines, a Department of Corrections crew, private company firefighters, and logging company employees. The fire soon became a multi-agency incident, with two public and two private agencies responding. One of the private agencies was in charge of the fire.
Firefighting continued until early evening when the incident commander withdrew the fire crews for safety reasons.
As the fire burned overnight, it increased from 7 to 40 acres (2 to 16 hectares) in size on August 11. After 2 p.m., the public agencies’ crews voiced their safety concerns to the incident commander and left the fireground. Some of those concerns included the need for better radio communications, the need for professional tree fellers, gaps in the fire line, and the lack of medivac sites and a medical plan. That evening and the following morning, the incident commander began implementing hazard mitigation.
By the morning of August 12, the fire had grown to 70 acres (28 hectares), and firefighters from one of the public agencies returned to the fireground, their concerns having been mitigated. The other crew was assigned to another fire.
During their lunch break, the victim and another firefighter were standing 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters) behind a feller, watching him cut down trees. When the other firefighter saw the top of a tree on the other side of the creek falling towards them, he yelled out a warning, and the two started to run. Seeing the falling tree hit another tree, he yelled to change direction, but the tree hit the victim, just missing the other firefighter.
For the full report, visit wildfirelessons.net/documents/STEEP_CORNER_FATALITY_SAI.pdf
At 5:30 a.m. on December 24, two firefighters, one a 43-year-old and the other a 19-year-old, were killed and two other firefighters sustained non-life-threatening injuries when they were shot by a 62-year-old mentally-challenged felon. The well-armed shooter intentionally set his vehicle and home on fire, causing the fire companies to respond. When the fire companies arrived at the scene, he started firing from behind a berm.
The first-arriving firefighter drove his own vehicle to the scene and was evacuating occupants from adjacent dwellings when he was shot in the back, causing a severe pelvic injury where the bullet lodged in his back, where it remains. A pumper with two firefighters arrived next. The firefighter sitting in the passenger seat left the vehicle and was shot twice, once in the left shoulder and once in the right knee. The driver gave a brief size-up, and then, thinking the shots were coming from the opposite side, got out of the vehicle from the passenger side. He, too, was fatally shot. The fourth firefighter, who arrived in another department emergency vehicle, was killed as he was putting on his protective clothing before connecting the pumper to the hydrant.
As a result of the shootings, fire personnel were unable to extinguish the fires, which eventually spread to seven other homes. During the fires, the shooter committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.