What at the Projected Operational Risks? Do they Matter? Photo:CJ Naum, 2013
Taking it to the Streets
Vacant, unoccupied, abandoned and derelict buildings continue to challenge emergency response companies at incidents. It’s the buildings of Heritage – masonry construction with Heavy Timber, Mill, Semi-Mill or Ordinary Construction systems of three to six to eight story heights that create the most significant risks to operations, mitigation, safety and integrity.
Do you know what the inherent characteristics and risks are for each system and occupancy condition?
Do you train on when and how to establish collapse management zones (CMZ), how to manage them and what indicators to monitor and track?
The identification, establishment and control of collapse management zones continues to be a leading Fireground performance deficient area requiring greater Fire
Service attention, training and rigor.
Understand the Difference between Occupancy Risk versus Occupancy Type?
Take a look at the building presented in the photo: discuss what the possible building construction features and systems are and why.
What type of Collapse Management Zones (CMZ) can be expected both interior and perimeter?
What would the expected fire flow requirements be with heavy fire involvement and extension?
What are other operational risks to operational companies and personnel?
How and when would Collapse Management Zones (CMZ) be established?
Who would manage them and how?
Is there a problem controlling Collapse Zones?
And the obvious question: How does the buildings’s assumed condition:Vacant, unoccupied, abandoned and derelict buildings affect your Incident Action Plan, Strategies and Tactics? Or is it not a factor…..How do you determine when and how to commit to interior operations?
For incident deployments to a report of a structure fire, the single most important attribute that defines all phases of subsequent operations and incident management; is that of understanding the building.
An officer or commander’s skill set, comprehension and intellect in their ability to read a building is paramount towards identifying risks, conducting fluid assessment, probability, predictability and recognizing intrinsic characteristics of the building and its expected performance under fire conditions, which are essential toward development of an integrated and adaptive fire management model and flexible incident action plan.
If you don’t know and understand the building, how can you identify and select appropriate strategies and tactics and have an integrate IAP suitable for the building and occupancy risks and predictability of performance?
It’s much more than just arriving on location, identifying a single family wood frame residential, a three story brick or a five story fireproof or single URM commercial and stretching in and going to work.
NIOSH: Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters using Risk Management Principles at Structure Fires HERE
On March 18, 1996, two firefighters were killed in Chesapeake, Virginia when they became trapped by a rapidly spreading fire in an auto parts store and a pre-engineered wood truss roof assembly collapsed on them. The cause of the fire was an electrical short created when a power company truck working in the rear of the building drove away with its boom in an elevated position, accidentally pulling an electrical feed line from the main breaker panel at the rear of the store.
Post-incident investigations indicate that the electrical fault may have sparked multiple points of fire origin throughout the roof structure of the building, due to improperly grounded wiring. At the time of the report issuance, this was exemplified as another incident illustrating the rapid failure of lightweight construction systems when key support components are involved in a fire. The report pointed out the importance of prefire planning and accurate size up by fire companies to determine the risk factors associated with a fire in this type of construction.
Lessons regarding importance of initial company actions, constant re-evaluation of action plans, strong command and coordination of units on the fireground, and recognition of signs of impending structural failure were also reinforced.
Reading through any number of NIOSH, USFA or NFPA reports, similar issues, challenges and operational factors resonate and continue to shape and challenge today’s fire ground operations.
It is without exception that the knowledge and insights being gained by the continuing efforts from the UL and NIST Research Studies coupled with the recommendations, from the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (HERE)will provide increased awareness and understanding of buildings, fire dynamics and the effectives of fire within the compartment, building and the manner in which fire departments engage in fire suppression operations.
Today’s fire ground is changing at a very rapid pace as it relates to the continued evolution, transition of engineered structural components and systems (ESS).
Are you prepared, knowledgeable and understand that new strategic and tactical approaches are required?
One of the most significant actions initiated by the Chesapeake Fire Department was the implementation of a Truss Identification Program (TIP).
Take a look at a past posting on CommandSafety.com where we published on an overview a few years ago of truss and engineering component systems across the United States HERE.
The following are excerpts and narrative from the USFA Technical Report Series TR-087 and NIOSH Report 96-17
Aerail Overview on Complex today
SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES
Staffing : The first alarm response provided a small attack force with limited capabilities. The full response brought only 10 personnel.
Size-up : The first arriving company officer was not able to determine the location and extent of the hidden fire.
Pre-fire plan information: This complex required a pre-fire plan due to the complex arrangement, multiple occupancies, mixed construction, lack of fixed protection, limited access and difficult water supply problems. The first-due company did carry a pre-fire plan that showed the layout of the shopping center and the floor plan for the auto parts store, but the prefire plan was not referenced by the crew during the fire.
Delayed response: The first arriving company was on the scene alone for several minutes with only 3 personnel. The back-up companies had long response times. The lack of evidence of a working fire prompted the initial incident commander to return some of the responding units, resulting in even longer response times.
Water supply: The first-in company did not establish a water supply. This required the second engine company to be committed to this task.
Incident command: The battalion chief was faced with a complicated and rapidly changing situation. He was not able to effectively transfer command from the initial officer and direct the operations of widely separated units.
Operational risk management:The officers involved in the initial part of the operation had to make critical risk management decisions with limited information.
Accountability: Accountability for the personnel operating in the hazardous area was not established prior to the structural collapse. As the situation became critical, no one realized that a crew was still inside the building.
Rapid intervention crew: Additional crews did not arrive in time to assist the crew that was in trouble inside the building.
Radio communications: The lack of a clear radio channel for fire ground communications caused serious problems with command and control of the incident, including the failure to maintain communications with the crew inside and the failure to hear their request for assistance.
Lightweight construction: The roof collapsed quickly and with very little warning. This should be anticipated with a lightweight wood truss roof assembly. This hazard was not recognized by the crews on the scene.
BUILDING DESCRIPTION – Construction and History
The fire occurred in a modern, lightweight construction building that was added to an existing strip mall in 1984. The older mall on exposure side four was separated from the fire building by a masonry fire wall and was constructed with masonry walls and a steel bar-joist roof structure. The exposures on side two consisted of additional stores that were similar in construction to the auto parts store. There were no exposures on sides one and three.
The auto parts store was constructed with two masonry exterior walls and two wood frame exterior walls, with a lightweight wood truss roof assembly. It was approximately 120 feet deep and 50 feet wide, providing about 6,000 square feet of open display and storage space. The roof assembly was a pre-engineered lightweight wood truss assembled from 2 x 6 top and bottom chords, with 2 x 4 web members held together with metal gusset plates.
There were no interior bearing walls or supports for the roof structure. At one end, the trusses were supported by a wood plate that was bolted to a metal beam.
The other end rested on top of the concrete block wall. Each truss was separated by 24 inches and they were covered with 1/2 inch CDX plywood sheathing under a two-ply rubber membrane.
A drywall ceiling was attached to the underside of the trusses, creating a truss void space (truss loft) 24 to 36 inches above the ceiling.
A sheet rock divider was located in the middle of the truss void as a draft stop. The roof had a slight pitch.
Three air handling units were on the roof of the building, with an estimated combined weight of 3,000 pounds. It is not known when these units were installed and they may have represented an unanticipated dead load on the roof assembly.
There was no indication that the trusses had been reinforced to support the extra weight of these units.
The original truss roof structure collapsed during the construction of the building, injuring three workers.
Most of the trusses were damaged and had to be replaced at the time. The fire building was occupied by Advance Auto Parts, a chain distributor of automobile part and lubricants. The store was designed with an open retail area containing display racks for goods.
A long counter ran from front to back behind which was shelving for additional auto parts. Waste oil and batteries were kept in a rear storage area separated from the front of the store by a drywall wall.
The southwest corner of the building contained employee restrooms which had a small water heater located in the ceiling space just above them. The main entrance to the store was through two large glass doors at the front of the building. A delivery and service entrance was located in the rear and a 40 foot trailer was parked behind the building and used for additional storage.
At approximately 11:00 a.m. on March 18, 1996, a power company employee set up a service truck at the rear of the Indian River Shopping Center in Chesapeake, Virginia. The worker was going to disconnect the electrical power to a customer who had not paid an electrical bill. The customer, a cocktail lounge and bar, was located adjacent to Advance Auto Parts. In preparing to disconnect service, the power company worker elevated the articulating boom on his truck to roof level. Faced with the immediate loss of power, an employee of the lounge paid the electrical bill while the power company employee was beginning work, and went to the back of the store to show the receipt.
A stamped receipt indicates the bill was paid at 11:16 a.m. at a supermarket also located in the shopping center. The power company employee, working from the bucket of the articulating boom, lowered the boom and verified the receipt. Although the bucket had been lowered, the hinged elbow of the articulating boom remained elevated. The employee then radioed his supervisor from the cab of his truck, and received instructions not to disconnect power.
The power company employee then attempted to drive the service truck away, forgetting to secure the boom, which snagged on a power line feeding the meter at the rear of the Advance Auto Parts Store. This caused a phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground arcing fault at the store’s electrical meter, starting the fire. The power company employee immediately stopped, exited his truck, and cut the remaining power connections to the meter at the rear of Advance Auto Parts.
Initial Actions Prior to Calling 911
After cutting the power line to the building, the power company employee removed the meter, noticed smoke coming from the meter base, notified his office and requested that another power company crew and a supervisor come and assist him.
An employee of the Advance Auto Parts Store came to the rear of the building and met the power company employee, telling him that the store had lost electrical power and that a fire was being extinguished inside the building.
Another Advance Auto Parts employee discharged a dry chemical fire extinguisher on the spot fire that had started near the hot water heater above the employee restrooms.
All believed the fire had been extinguished at this time.
At 11:29 a.m., the Chesapeake Fire and Police Emergency Operations Center received a 911 call from Advance Auto Parts reporting a problem with the fuse box in the store.
The Chesapeake Fire Department was dispatched to a report of a fuse box sparking at 4345 Indian River Road at the Advance Auto Parts store.
Initial response consisted of two engines, a ladder company, and a battalion chief, for a total of 10 personnel.
Engine 3 was the first due arriving company, responding from quarters. Engine 1 and Ladder 2 also responded.
Battalion 1 was dispatched as the command officer, but requested that Battalion 2 cover the assignment, since he was out of position.
Battalion 2 acknowledged the request, and he responded with the first alarm companies.
Engine 3’s crew consisted of three personnel: a driver/pump operator; Firefighter- Specialist John Hudgins, serving as Acting Lieutenant for the shift; and Firefighter- Specialist Frank Young, detailed to the station for the day, was riding in the jump seat. Engine 3 was responding in a reserve engine that had a 500 gallon water tank.
Initial Size-Up and Company Actions
At approximately 11:35 a.m., about five and a half minutes after dispatch, Engine 3 arrived on the scene at the front of the strip mall.
Hudgins reported “a single-story commercial structure, nothing showing from the front. Engine 3 is in command.”
Engine 3 took a position in front of the Advance Auto Parts Store. Hudgins and Young entered the structure from the front of the building to investigate.
Conditions were clear in the store, and there was no visible smoke or flames showing. They discovered light smoke near the electrical panel in the rear of the building, and radioed to Battalion 2 that they had a fire and were checking for extension.
Acting Lieutenant Hudgins then radioed for Engine 3’s driver to reposition the apparatus to the rear of the building.
Hudgins then radioed to Battalion 2, who had not yet arrived on the scene, that Engine 3 and Ladder 2 could handle the incident. Battalion 2 and Engine 1, the second due engine company, both went in service.
Engine 3 Reports They Are Trapped, Roof Collapses
At approximately 11:49 a.m., almost 20 minutes after the initial dispatch time, Hudgins radioed that he and Young could not get out of the building. Battalion 2 radioed back that he could not understand their transmission. Hudgins then radioed that they needed someone to come to the front of the building and get them out. Again unable to understand their transmission, Battalion 2 radioed for any unit on the fireground to advise him if they heard the message that was transmitted.
Engine 4 responded that they were unable to copy the transmission.
Engine 14 then marked on the scene and was instructed by Battalion 2 to lay a supply line to the front of the building. Battalion 1, enroute to the fire on the second alarm, radioed to Battalion 2 that it sounded like someone was trapped inside.
Battalion 3, also enroute, radioed that he would be on the scene momentarily and would assist.
At this time, Ladder 2’s crew was setting the outriggers and preparing to elevate their aerial ladder for defensive operations.
In the short time it took to accomplish the stabilization of the ladder truck, the front of the store became fully involved, the building contents ignited, and the roof collapsed.
Due to the radiant heat, Ladder 2 was forced to retract their outriggers and reposition to a safer defensive position on side one of the structure, and set up the aerial again.
Ladder 2’s crew did not hear Engine 3’s transmission that they were trapped.
Simultaneously, Engine 1 ran out of supply line about 200 feet short of the hydrant. Engine 2, responding on the second alarm, picked up the hydrant that Engine 1 was attempting to reach and laid a supply line to side one.
The driver of Engine 1 attempted to contact his officer by radio to advise that he could not reach the hydrant, but could not get through due to heavy radio traffic.
He parked the engine in the roadway, donned his SCBA, and went to the rear of the building to report to his Captain and rejoin his crew.
Battalion 3 arrived on side one about this time and radioed for all companies to switch to channel two, an alternate fireground tactical frequency.
Driven by the northerly wind and the draft created by the burning contents of the structure, the fire at the rear had grown in such intensity that personnel were forced to move Engine 3. Assisted by employees of the power company, Engine 3 was moved back away from the rear of the building. At 11:55 a.m., about 26 minutes after dispatch, the Captain of Engine 1, with his crew at the rear of the building, confirmed to Battalion 2 that “I got men on the inside from Engine 3, and the lines have been burned. I do not know their status, and we still have no water to go in after them.”
Battalion 3 met with Battalion 2 and discussed that they may have lost a crew inside. Battalion 3 assumed command and Battalion 2 went to the rear of the building to coordinate rescue efforts. There, Battalion 2 met with the Captain from Engine 1.
By this time, the building was fully involved and no rescue efforts could be mounted until the fire was knocked down. Officers at the front and the rear attempted to conduct a personnel accountability report (PAR) to determine who was missing and where they might be located.
An engine company responding on mutual aid from the Virginia Beach Fire Department was flagged down, connected to Engine 1’s supply line, and completed the water supply to a hydrant behind the shopping center within the City of Virginia Beach. Engine 3 was forced to move back once again, and the supply line was disconnected from Engine 3 and used to supply water to Engine 4, a telesquirt that was positioned for defensive operations at the rear.
Extinguishment and Body Recovery
The fire spread to the attic of the exposures on side two and was held in check by the fire wall on side four of the building. The fire was brought under control as the contents of the auto parts store burned off and several aerial streams were put into operation. After the fire was extinguished, a search for the missing firefighters was initiated. After the bodies of the firefighters were located, they were removed from the fire building by members of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, and transferred by members of the Chesapeake Fire Department to medic units.
The body recovery was supervised by the Chesapeake Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office and documented. An investigation was immediately started by the Chesapeake Fire Department Fire Marshal.
Fire Cause and Flame Spread
The fire was caused by the electrical short created when the power company truck struck the power line to the building. Investigation by the City of Chesapeake Electrical Inspector after the fire revealed that the meter contained wiring that appeared to have been tampered with and did not comply with the electrical code.
Several connections at the meter had been double-lugged, connecting multiple wires to single terminals. Additional investigation by Virginia Power revealed that the building may have been improperly grounded, leading to numerous hot connections when the short circuit occurred. The main fuse did not trip at the breaker panel and the wiring on all three air handling units had been fused. This probably resulted in the ignition of multiple spot fires in the truss loft above the store.
It appears that the fires in the truss loft were still relatively minor when Engine 3 arrived, but the fire spread rapidly throughout the space due to the light wood construction.
The wind drawn from the open doors at the front of the building also promoted rapid fire growth. This would have created a tremendous hidden fire in the wood truss loft area despite clear conditions inside the structure.
Reports of heavy smoke and fire conditions on the roof at the same time Engine 3’s crew was calling for pike poles and personnel to come inside are indications towards this scenario.
The interior of the auto parts store contained racks of auto parts and supplies, including oil, lubricants, rubber, and plastic parts. The contents were packed closely together and stored in tall racks near the ceiling.
Once the fire had broken through the ceiling in the rear of the building, these contents would have quickly reached their ignition temperatures, creating flashover conditions in the rear of the store as the fire progressed, trapping the firefighters and forcing them to seek an exit at the front of the store.
The collapse of the pre-engineered truss roof occurred approximately 21 minutes after the time of dispatch, and within 35 minutes of the initial accident, that caused the electrical short.
The structure appears to have collapsed within 10 to 12 minutes after the truss space became heavily involved.
The collapse of similar truss assemblies under fire conditions within this time period has been well documented.
Post-incident investigations indicate that this truss assembly may have been weakened by deficiencies in the connection of the trusses to the beam on the east side of the building.
Also, the dead load of the three air conditioning units may have contributed to the rapid failure of the roof.
Reports from firefighters on the scene indicate that a partial failure of the truss assembly may have occurred in the rear of the building, followed shortly by the failure of the entire roof assembly.
It is possible that the crew of Engine 3 was trapped by the partial collapse of the roof in the rear, or by the collapse of racks containing auto parts in the building, or by the rapid spread of the fire and smoke which had broken through the ceiling.
It is also possible that a combination of these events occurred simultaneously. The failure of the entire roof assembly and complete involvement of the interior of the building with fire took place within one minute after the firefighters radioed for help, before any reaction to assist them could take place.
Initial Response - The first alarm assignment was overwhelmed by the situation, the circumstances, and the unusual sequence of events that occurred at this incident. It is evident that a larger force would have been needed to initiate an effective offensive or defensive operation for a working fire in a 6,000 square foot commercial occupancy, with attached exposures on two sides, with or without the unusual complications.
The response of two engine companies, one ladder company and a battalion chief, provided a total of 25 only 10 personnel on the initial assignment.
The individual companies, which responded with three person crews, had limited capabilities to perform tasks independently.
This incident generated only a single call to 9-1-1 reporting an electrical problem.
LESSONS LEARNED AND REINFORCED
1. RISK ASSESSMENTis the primary responsibility of the incident commander.
This incident presented a very high risk to the firefighters who were attempting to make an interior attack. However, the risk factors were not recognized and the interior crew was not directed to abandon the building. Risk assessment should be a continual process, particularly when a situation is changing very quickly.
2. ACCOUNTABILITY is an essential function of the Incident Command System.
The location and operation of the initial attack crew was not tracked according to the incident command system that was in effect at the time of the fire. The system must keep track of the location, function, status, and assignment of every individual unit or company operating at the scene of an emergency incident. In order to be effective, the accountability process must be routinely initiated at the beginning of every incident and updated as the incident progresses and units are reassigned to different tasks.
3. TACTICAL RADIO CHANNELS are essential for firefighter safety.
The fireground operations were conducted on the same radio channel as the routine dispatch and transfer of additional units, hampering the fireground communications during the important early stages of the incident. Designated radio channels should be set aside specifically for communications between the incident commander and the units operating at the scene of an incident. The exchange of information, orders, instructions, warnings, and progress reports is essential to support safe and effective operations. Tactical channels should be assigned early and routinely to avoid the confusion that occurs when units that are already working are directed to switch to a different radio channel.
4. FIRE OPERATIONS must be limited to those functions that can be performed safely with the number of personnel that are available at the scene of an incident.
The initial response to this incident did not provide enough resources to safely initiate an effective interior attack for the situation that was encountered. The first arriving company initiated interior operations that could not be adequately performed or supported with the limited number of personnel at the scene or responding. The delayed arrival of back-up companies increased the risk exposure of the first due company. The situation called for a more conservative initial attack plan and/or an early retreat when the magnitude of the fire became evident.
5. WATER SUPPLY is a critical component of a safe and successful operation.
The failed attempt to establish an adequate and reliable water supply for the interior attack was a critical problem at this incident. This task occupied the second due engine company which was needed to provide either a back-up hose line to support the interior attack or a rapid intervention crew.
6. LIGHTWEIGHT WOOD TRUSS CONSTRUCTION is prone to rapid failure under fire conditions.
If the construction of the building had been known or recognized, the early failure of the roof structure should have been anticipated and the interior crew should have been withdrawn. This requires pre-fire planning to identify high risk properties and a reliable system to label the building or to inform the responding units of the risk factors of the building. It is usually difficult or impossible to make this determination when the building is burning.
A veteran fire captain testified Wednesday that he was trapped in debris that fell from a ceiling during a February 2011 fire at a luxury home in the Hollywood Hills, where another longtime firefighter suffered fatal injuries.
Called to testify during a hearing to determine if an architect who designed and oversaw the construction of the home should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter, Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Edward Watters told Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan that he “heard a loud bang” and suddenly found himself lying on his back with a “lot of weight on my chest.”
Gerhard Albert Becker—a 48-year-old German national who owned, designed and built the home —is charged in connection with the death of firefighter Glenn Allen, 61.
Allen, a 36-year veteran of the LAFD, died two days after being struck by a portion of the ceiling during the Feb. 16, 2011, blaze.
A rapid and fast moving early morning fire in downtown Trenton, Ontario Canada resulted in the subsequent collapse of a three story mixed use commerical and apartment occupancy structure. Published media reports indicated the building was over 130 years of age and was in operation as an adult entertainment establishment on the lower level with multiple occupancy use apartments on the upper floors. The fire displaced 12 residents. The commercial portion of the building on the number one floor was not operating at the time of the alarm.
For a complete overview of the general fire, refer to the links below for the media links.
Two firefighters were nearly trapped while engaged in primary search and rescue operations as the fire conditions deteriorated and compromise and collapse conditions began to collapse the wood frame structure.
Pre-incident images clearly depict the typical building profile of a heritage type structure of the late 1880′s vintage with it’s sloping roof profile and window treatments that are evident on both the bravo and delta divisions (many with window mounted air conditioning units that constitute a collapse risk to operating companies on the ground perimeter) . As with many buildings in urban areas, the exterior envelope has been renovated in a manner that added an exterior metal clad panel system that is typically mechanically fastened directly to the facade or to a sub-assembly fastening system. This in effect covers the buildings originating facade, building materials and structural and cosmetic conditions.
Common to original building construction and layouts, the alpha division shows the manner in which the first floor wall has been modified with no indication of window locations and conditions in the upper floors. Common to this renovation technique is the placement of the metal facade directly over existing window openings and framing systems, resulting in either boarded and elimination of the window or the fames and glass still present within the interior room compartments compounding search and rescue assignments.
Sherwood Forest Inn, Image from Google Street View
The metal exterior cladding masks the ability for arriving companies to identify if the structure is wood frame Type V, ordinary Type III or Brace Frame construction. The profile and charactoristics of this building profile suggests a buidling of Type III Ordinary construction ( Brick and jost) with load bearing masony construction. This is not the case in this structure as fireground photos further depicted. The various fireground photos suggest that this was a wood frame structure with wood exterior sheathing with some brick masonry features applied to the alpha division. The building envelope is encased in a sheet metal panel cladding system attached the perimeter facade.
Delta Division, Google Street View Image
Image above shows the degree of interior fire involvement and smoke density. The sheet metal cladding that was applied to the surface facade masks the ability to monitor wall degradation and compromise, retains heat within the building envelope and has independent collapse considerations based upon the manner it is atached to the outer facade further compounding the structural integrity of the buildings wall envelope. Photo by Step Crosier.
In incidents taht have building profiles such as this, conservative risk management, establishment of primary and secondary collapse perimeters along the various divisions is imperative for firefighter safety and apparatus operabilty.
Collapse and failure of the primary structural support systems affecting both interior and exterior structural and infill systems. Photo by Marc Venema
The image above shows the extent of collapse. Look at the various construction features consisting of the original wood plank sheathing, brick facade work, wood framing system and the retrofitted metal paneling facade.
How would you Read the Building based upon the pre incident photos shown at the being of this post?
Would you assume the building was a type III or IV structure or a wood frame or brace frame structure?
Does each building system have a different bearing on fireground operations, strategies, tactics and operational integrity and company and personnal safety?
How much operatoinal time do you have for a primary search and rescue assignment or for deployment and effective location of a fire seat and application of hose streams before you developing compromising conditions with the interior compartments?
Look at the brick veneer added to the wood sheathing covered by the metal panels in this image. Photo by Steph Crosier
A second alarm fire occurred in a four-story apartment building in the 20500 block of Reserve Falls Terrace, Loudoun County, VA that took command of over 13 apartment units.
The fire was reported at 07:39 hours on Sunday morning November 20, 2011.
Arriving companies found heavy fire was coming from the building. Fire crews initiated an offensive attack but were forced to evacuate due to potential structural collapse considerations.
A second alarm was activated and a defensive attack was mounted until it was safe for crews to get back inside. Firefighters from Sterling, Lansdowne, Ashburn and Fairfax responded to the fire. Crews remained on the scene for several hours performing overhaul and checking for hot spots.
At least 13 units in the building were damaged, displacing over 26 occupants. There were no reported injuries.
Alpha Division Aerial View-Street Side
Bravo Division (note grade change from the Alpha to Charlie sides)
Fire Extension thru Roof at Bravo Division Charlie
Operational Considerations at Garden Apartment Complex and Residencies
Fire ground operations at Garden Apartment Complex and Multiple Occupancy Residencies require due diligence and well-coordinated multiple company operations that have well established operating protocols, clearly defined ( but flexible) company and response duties and an effective and well-practiced and experienced cadre of company and command officers.
Due to the likely demands and complexities of evolving and expanding incident conditions at fire involving Garden Apartment type buildings and complexes, couple with the civilian life safety concerns due to occupancy density and numbers, immediate and timely resources are necessary to conduct multiple and concurrent functional assignments that demand effectiveness, efficiency and trained company compositions.
Strategy and Tactics at Garden Apartment Complex and Residencies required special instructions, insights and knowledge that goes well beyond the practices and methodologies typically deployed at single family residential fire incidents.
Multiple occupancy dwelling units, occupancy loads, multiple floors, building construction, structural systems and assemblies, construction and material, methods of construction and building and occupancy layouts and configurations results in fast spreading and extreme fire conditions, common avenues for internal and exterior fire travel, congested travel paths and access/egress points, multiple hose line deployment strategies with adequate fire flows, effective building laddering, forcible entry support and concurrent, mobile and skilled search and rescue capabilities.
The ability to deploy and operate multiple hand lines is mission critical at fires in these multiple occupancy dwellings. As are a number of other strategic and tactical functions; but again, If the fire is controlled and goes out- all the other escalating, concurrent and immediate demands, needs and requests along with highest risk factors for survivability to occupants and firefighter alike diminishes rapidly and can be managed.
Here are some discussion points to chat about around the kitchen table;
Are your engine companies effectively set up and outfitted to stretch out and deploy extended lines, multiple lines on common floors or within various floor elevations?
Have you and your company practiced coordinated multiple company search and rescue protocols for multiple occupancy floor areas?
Have you considered the needs, impacts and operational deployment for a RIT on a common floor during extreme fire conditions that required interior common hallway access and extraction of a firefighter in distress or incapacitated?
Do you have the capability to deploy and implement multiple companies for coordinated roof ventilation operations? IF so, have they training together in the past?
How effective and knowledgably are you and your company in initiating and completing multiple trench, strip or louver roof ventilation cuts?
Are you aware of the signs for potential or imminent collapse for the various types of garden apartment buildings in your response area? Did you know there are different considerations based on the vintage, age and construction systems and assemblies utilized?
When was the last time you either pre-fire planned any of your garden apartment building or complexes? Or did a company walk-through?
Which ones are protected by a fixed sprinkler system?
Do you what the water fire flow capabilities are for the hydrants and system in any of these garden apartment building or complexes?
Have you done any table top exercises considering a standard alarm assignment fire, or an escalating multiple alarms incident?
Do you consider occupancy risk versus occupany type for the buildings you respond to?
Are your considering the effects of extreme fire behavior and the potential for wind driven fire conditions in your IAPs?
Are you considering the collapse and compromise potential for floor and roof assemblies in your assignments?
Are you fully prepared for immediate or multiple RIT needs and deployments?
Do you understand how these garden apartment buildings are constructed, configured and will impact your strategic and tactical assignments?
Do you have the right skill set for performing safely and effectively in your assigned role and responsibilities? If not, what are you going to do about that gap?
Ten years ago, on September 11, 2001, New York City Fire Department Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer saw the first aircraft hit the North Tower and radioed the alarm, the first FDNY fire chief to take command.
Today, Pfeifer is the New York City Fire Department’s Chief of Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness and a Citywide Command Chief. Wharton management professor Michael Useem talked with Pfeifer recently about his leadership during the 9/11 rescue efforts and what the New York City Fire Department and other cities are doing to prepare for the unexpected. This was originally posted on Firefighternation.com, HERE. For a Complete overview and remembrance on this tenth anniversary of 9|11, go HERE at FFN
WORLD TRADE CENTER TASK FORCE INTERVIEW CHIEF JOSEPH PFEIFER Interview Date: October 23, 2001 PDF HERE
Cherokee County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services and Woodstock (GA) Fire Department personnel responded to a structure fire at 811 Commons Court, located in the Kingston Square Subdivision, off Highway 92, just east of Woodstock (GA) sunday night for a reported fire in a residential structure; with reports of trapped occupants. During suppression operations, three Cherokee County firefighters were trapped in the basement for a short period of time due the catastrophic collapse of a front wall-floor assembly resulting in the collapse of the entry porch floor system on the alpha division.
Cherokee County 911 received the call of the fire at 1:30 Sunday regarding a structure fire with possible entrapment. Firefighters quickly responded to the scene to find the house fully involved and began a defensive attack. Two Cherokee County firefighters and one Woodstock firefighters were standing on the porch of the structure when it collapsed. The three firefighters were pulled from the burning structure and were later taken by ambulance to Marietta’s Kennestone Hospital.
According to information posted on the Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services web site and other published media reports, two Cherokee County Firefighters were treated and released and one firefighter is still in ICU at a local hospital, struggling to survive; with smoke inhalation and lung injuries resulting from the falling bricks that struck him during the collapse.
According to one report, the three engine company firefighters were operating a handline for an exended period of time on the porch of the home (Alpha side) when the floor and wall assembly gave way beneath them, sending them tumbling into the basement below. The adjacent wall and canopy fell on top of the firefighters after falling into the area below. An aerial view of the residence shows a raised ranch style structure with a garage and basement configuration below the main floor. According to public records, the single family wood frame house was built in 1986 and was comprised of 1,910 square feet of occupied space, with three bredrooms.
Aerial View of the Residential Occupancy (Bing)
Unfortunately due to the degree of fire involvment and susequent collapse, firefighters were unable to reach the elderly couple, a 78 year old man and his 77 year old wife, who perished in the early morning fire. The couple’s daughter and her 25 year old son were also living with the couple and they escaped without injury.
CommandSafety: Floor Collaspe Safety Insights; HERE
We posted some extensive information over at CommandSafety.com related to two past LODD events from 2006 and 2009 along with a number of pertainent informational links realted to floor collapse, firefighter near miss events involving floor compromise and collapse.
Take some time to link over to our sister site and check out the information. (HERE)
We’ll follow up on this event to see if we can gain further insights related to the structural conditions, construction features and contributing factors that lead to the floor collapse.
The Waldbaum’s Supermarket Fire and Collapse FDNY 1978
The Waldbaum Super market fire, Brooklyn, New York occurred on August 2, 1978. Six firefighters died in the line of duty when the roof of a burning Brooklyn supermarket collapsed, plunging 12 firefighters into the flames. The fire began in a hallway near the compressor room as crews were renovating the store, and quickly escalated to a fourth-alarm. Less than an hour after the fire was first reported, nearly 20 firefighters were on the roof when the central portion gave way.
Captain Araguz, a 30 year old, 11-year veteran of the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department made Captain in 2009. He lost his life while battling a multiple alarm fire a the Maxim Egg Farm located at 3307 FM 442, Boling, Texas on July 3, 2010. The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office issued the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report, SFMO Case Number FY10-01 that provides a detailed examination of the incident, operations and yeilds findings and recommendations. A full version of the report is available at the Texas SFMO web site HERE.
On July 3, 2010, Wharton Volunteer Fire Department Captain Thomas Araguz III was fatally injured during firefighting operations at an egg production and processing facility. At 9:41 PM, Wharton County Sheriff’s Office 911 received a report of a fire at the Maxim Egg Farm located at 3307 FM 442, Boling, Texas. Boling Volunteer Fire Department and the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department responded first, arriving approximately 12 minutes after dispatch. Eventually, more than 30 departments with 100 apparatus and more than 150 personnel responded. Some departments came as far as 60 miles to assist in fighting the fire.
The fire involved the egg processing building, including the storage areas holding stacked pallets of foam, plastic, and cardboard egg cartons and boxes. It was a large windowless, limited access structure with large open areas totaling over 58,000 square feet. A mixed construction, it included a two-story business office, the egg processing plant, storage areas, coolers, and shipping docks. It was primarily metal frame construction with metal siding and roofing on a concrete slab foundation with some areas using wood framing for the roof structure.
Captain Araguz responded to the scene from the Wharton Fire Station, approximately 20 miles from the fire scene, arriving to the front, south side main entrance 20 minutes after dispatch. Captain Araguz, Captain Juan Cano, and Firefighter Paul Maldonado advanced a line through the main entrance and along the south, interior wall to doors leading to a storage area at the Southeast corner.
Maldonado fed hose at the entry door as Captains Araguz and Cano advanced through the processing room. Araguz and Cano became separated from the hose line and then each other. Captain Cano found an exterior wall and began kicking and hitting the wall as his air supply ran out. Firefighters cut through the exterior metal wall at the location of the knocking and pulled him out. Several attempts were made to locate Captain Araguz including entering the building through the hole and cutting an additional hole in the exterior wall where Cano believed Araguz was located. Fire conditions eventually drove the rescuers back and defensive firefighting operations were initiated.
Captain Cano was transported to the Gulf Coast Medical Center where he was treated and released. Captain Araguz was recovered at 7:40 AM, the following morning. Initially transported by ambulance to the Wharton Funeral Home then taken to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office in Austin, Texas for a post-mortem examination.
Site Plan of Building Complex
Building Structure and Systems
The fire incident building was located on the property of Maxim Egg Farm, located within an unincorporated area of Wharton County. The 911 address is 580 Maxim Drive, Boling, Texas 77420.
Wharton County has no adopted fire codes, or model construction codes, and no designated Fire Marshal on staff that conducts fire safety inspections within their jurisdiction.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 101, Life Safety Code, 2009 Edition, is adopted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and is the applicable standard for fire and life safety inspections in the absence of an adopted fire code within unincorporated areas of a county by an applicable authority. All references regarding evaluation of the incident building in relation to minimum life safety requirements are based on NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, 2009 Edition.
Maxim Farm property includes 23 chicken coops known as layer barns that average 300 feet long and 50 feet wide holding between 15,000 to 25,000 chickens each. These layer barns inter-connect to a central processing building by a series of enclosed conveyor belts transporting over one million eggs daily.
The property includes integrated feed silos, water tanks, and waste management facilities. Additional areas on the property include equipment barns, shipping offices, loading docks, coolers, storage areas, and business offices.
Overall Building Description
The main processing structure was an irregularly shaped mixed construction of metal, concrete block, and wood framing on a concrete slab foundation with approximately 58,000 square feet of space. Three dry-storage rooms connected by a wide hallway lined the east side of the plant. A concrete block (CMU) wall separated the egg processing area from the East Hallway and storage rooms. Coolers were located north of the processing room with the loading docks along the west side of the structure. The loading docks were accessible from the processing room, Cooler 3, and Cooler 2. Cooler 1 was located at the north end of Dry Storage 2. A two-story building housing the business office was attached to the main processing plant at the southwest corner.
The building construction was classified as an NFPA 220, Type II-000 construction with an occupancy classification by the Life Safety Code as Industrial with sub-classification as special-purpose use. The Life Safety Code imposes no minimum construction requirements for this type of occupancy.
The predominant use of the building was to process and package fresh eggs for shipment after arriving by automated conveyor directly from a laying house adjacent to the building. The general floor plan of the building consisted of a large egg processing room, with surrounding areas used for storage of packing materials and two large drive-in coolers for holding packaged eggs prior to shipping.
Building construction consisted of a combination of steel and wood framing with a sheet metal exterior siding and roofing over a low-pitch roof on a concrete slab foundation. Structural elements within the interior of the building were exposed and unprotected with no fire-resistance rated materials applied. The load bearing structural elements consisted of steel beams, and steel pipe columns, with steel open web trusses supporting the roof structure.
Wood components were also used as part of the load bearing elements and wall framing.
Perimeter walls of the cooler compartments were constructed of concrete masonry units (CMU).
The building was not separated between other areas of use by fire-resistance rated assemblies.
Ancillary facilities located within the building used for administrative offices and other incidental spaces were constructed of wood framing with a gypsum wallboard finish.
Detailed Construction Features
The front of the structure faced to the south where the main entrance to the processing room and business offices was located approximately 4 feet above the parking lot grade level and accessed by a series of steps. The business office was a two-story wood frame construction with a vinyl exterior siding under a metal roof on a concrete slab foundation. Additional separate, single-story, wood frame structures with offices located to the west of the main business office connected by covered walkways.
The egg processing room was 141 feet along the east and west walls and approximately 100 feet along the north and south walls. The processing room received the eggs transported from the layer barns on the conveyer belt system. The room contained the processing equipment and conveyor systems where eggs were cleaned, graded, packaged and moved to large coolers to await shipment. The construction of the processing room was sheet metal panels embedded into the concrete slab foundation supported by 8-inch wide metal studs. Sheet metal panels lined the exterior and interior sides of the south and west walls with fiberglass insulation sandwiched between.
Main Processing Area
The north wall separated the processing room from Cooler 3 and consisted mainly of interlocking insulated metal panels embedded into the slab locked at the top in metal channels. Their interior surface was polyurethane laminate.
The east wall was mainly of concrete block (CMU) construction. A USDA office and a mechanics room were accessed through doors in the east wall of the processing room. The northeast corner of the processing room extended into the north end of the east hallway, forming an 18 feet by 18 feet area with wood frame construction on a concrete stem wall with fiber cement board (Hardy board) and metal panel siding. A 6-feet wide opening between the processing and dry-storage areas with a vinyl strip door allowed unrestricted access.
Along the south wall of the processing room, a walkway between the processing equipment and exterior wall led to swinging double doors at the southeast corner to enter into Dry Storage 3. Conveyors carried the eggs from the north and south layer barns through openings in the walls of the extension of the processing room. The conveyors from the north and south layer barns entered the building suspended overhead. As the conveyors approached the entrance to the main processing room, they gradually descended to 3.5 feet above floor level and were supported by metal brackets attached to the floor. Electric drive motors attached to the conveyors at several points along their lengths to power their movement.
The roof consisted of steel columns and girders with metal panel roofing attached to metal purlins supported by steel rafters. Wire mesh supported fiberglass insulation under the roof deck. The roof gable was oriented north to south.
The plant included three dry-storage rooms along the eastern side of the building connected by an east hallway. Dry Storage 1 and Dry Storage 2 were located in the northeast corner of the plant under a common sloping metal roof. The dry-storage rooms held pallets of containers including polystyrene egg crates, foam egg cartons, pulp egg cartons, and cardboard boxes.
Dry Storage 1 was approximately 123 feet long and 50 feet wide and was 4 feet below the grade of the rest of the plant. It was added to the east side of Dry Storage 2 in 2008. Dry Storage 1 was a concrete slab and 4-feet high concrete half wall topped with wood framing and metal siding. The metal roof sloped from 11 feet high above the west side to 10 feet high above the east wall. The roof attached to 2 inch x 8 inch wood joists supported by two rows of steel support columns and steel girders. The two rows of seven columns were oriented in a north-south direction.
A concrete ramp at the south end facilitated access to the East Hallway and Dry Storage 2 and the main level of the processing room. A concrete ramp at the northeast corner of Dry Storage 1 provided access to the rear loading dock. The rear dock was secured on the interior at the top of the ramp by a wood frame and metal double door with a wooden cross member and a chain and padlock. An additional wood frame and screened double door secured on the interior.
The conveyor belt from the north layer barns ran the length of the west side of Dry Storage 1 where it turned to the west, crossing Dry Storage 2 and the East Hallway into the main processing room.
Dry Storage 1 contained 29 rows of pallets, seven to eight pallets deep, of mainly Styrofoam egg crates stacked between 7 and 10 feet high, depending on their location. Corridors between the rows were maintained to provide access to the pallets with an electric forklift. Fluorescent light fixtures attached to the wood rafters in rows north to south with their conductors in PVC conduit. Skylights spaced evenly above the west side allowed for natural light. Pallets of stock material were single stacked below the locations of the light fixtures to keep clearance and prevent damage.
Dry Storage 2, located west of and 4 feet above Dry Storage 1, stored pallets of flattened cardboard box stock. The room was approximately 81 feet long and 40 feet wide. The south wall was the processing room extension and was approximately 25 feet long. The east side of the room was open to Dry Storage 1 with 4 inch x 4 inch unprotected wood studs spaced unevenly from 4 feet to 9 feet, supporting the metal roof. The west wall was CMU construction and was the exterior wall of Cooler 3. The metal roof sloped from the top of the west wall approximately 12 feet high to approximately 11 feet above the east side.
The room was accessed from the south end at the top of the ramp leading down into Dry Storage 1. Pallets of folded cardboard boxes were stacked along the entire length of the west wall extending 16 to 20 feet to the east. The rows of pallets were without spacing for corridors. One row of six fluorescent light fixtures attached to wood rafters near the north-south centerline.
The East Hallway was approximately 118 feet long and 37 feet wide running along the length of the east side of the processing room. The East Hallway connected Dry Storages 1 and 2 with Dry Storage 3 by a corridor at the south end. The East Hallway allowed access between the storage room areas and into utility rooms including the Boiler Room at the north end and a mechanics room and small utility closet. Pallets of polystyrene egg crates were stored along the east wall in rows of three pallets each. Seven pallets of polystyrene egg crates were stored along the conveyors.
The west wall was concrete block construction (CMU) until it connected to the extension of the processing area constructed of wood frame covered by Hardy board and sheet metal. The east wall was sheet metal embedded in the concrete slab supported by 2 inch x 4 inch wood studs with Hardy board interior. The metal roof sloped from a height at 12 feet at the west wall to 10 feet high at the east wall, supported by 4 inch x 6 inch wood columns and 2 inch x 8 inch wood joists.
Two conveyors entered the south end of the east hallway from Dry Storage 3. The conveyors ran parallel for approximately 80 feet along the west wall and entered the processing room through openings in the extension at the north end of the east hallway. They were 6 feet from the west wall and gradually descended from a height of 9 feet at the south end to 3.5 feet at the north. Each conveyor was 31 inches wide and combined was approximately 7 feet wide. Two compressor machines and a pressure washer were located along the west wall near the south end.
The Boiler Room, located at the northeast corner of the East Hall, housed two propane fired boilers, a water treatment system and two vacuum pumps. It was wood frame construction with metal siding under a metal roof on a combination concrete slab and concrete pier and wood beam foundation. A small utility room with service panels was constructed of concrete block on a concrete slab under a metal roof and was also located along the west wall of the East Hallway. An approximately 10 feet wide corridor connected the East Hallway to Dry Storage 3.
Dry Storage 3 extended south from the main processing room and East Hallway to the south dock area where tractor-trailers parked to unload the pallets of supplies. Two parallel conveyors suspended 9 feet overhead from the roof extended along the length of the east wall where it passed through the south wall toward the south layer houses.
The plant’s main power conductors entered the west wall of Dry Storage 3 from load centers and transformers mounted to the slab outside approximately 15 feet south of the main processing room exterior wall. Stacks of wood pallets were stored in Dry Storage 3. Corridors wide enough for forklifts provided access to the south cargo dock area.
Fire Ground Operations and Tactics
Note: The following sequence of events was developed from radio transmissions and firefighter witness statements. Those events with known times are identified. Events without known times are approximated in the sequence of the events based on firefighter statements regarding their actions and/or observations. A detailed timeline of radio transmissions is included in the appendix.
On July 3, 2010, at 21:41:10, Wharton County Sheriff’s Office 911 received a report of a fire at the Maxim Egg Farm located on County Road 442, south of the city of Boling, Texas. The caller, immediately transferred to the Wharton Police Department Dispatch, advised there was a “big fire” in the warehouse where egg cartons were stored. Boling Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched and immediately requested aid from the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department. Wharton VFD became Command as is the usual practice for this county.
Wharton Assistant Chief Stewart (1102) was returning to the station having been out on a response to a vehicle accident assisting the Boling Volunteer Fire Department when the call came in for the fire. He responded immediately and at 21:50 reported seeing “heavy fire” coming from the roof at the northeast corner of the building as he approached the plant from the east on County Road 442. When he arrived he was eventually directed to the east side of the building (D side) to the rear loading dock. Asst. Chief Stewart worked for several minutes with facility employees to gain access to the fire building before being led to the northeast loading dock.
An employee directed him on the narrow caliche drive behind the layer barns and between the waste ponds to the loading dock. Wharton Engine 1134 followed 1102 to the east side and backed into the drive leading to the loading dock. Asst. Chief Stewart’s immediate actions included assessing the extent of the fire on the interior of the building by looking through the doors at the loading dock to Dry Storage 1. Unable to see the fire through the smoke at the doors of the loading dock, an attack was eventually accomplished by removing a metal panel from the east exterior wall of Dry Storage 1 and using one 1¾”-inch cross lay. After a few minutes, the deck gun on Engine 1134 was utilized, directing water to the roof above the seat of the fire near the south end of Dry Storage 1.
Water supply became an immediate concern and 1102 made efforts to get resources for resupply. Requests for mutual aid to provide water tankers were made to area communities. During the incident, re-supplying tankers included a gravity re-fill from the on-site water supply storage tanks and from fire hydrants in the City of Boling, 3 miles from the scene and the City of Wharton, nearly 11 miles. The City of Boling water tower was nearly emptied during the incident.
The radio recording indicates there were difficulties accessing the location of the fire as apparatus were led around the complex by multiple employees. Heavy rains during the previous week left many roadways muddy and partially covered with water, which added to problems with apparatus access. In addition, fire crews were not familiar with the layout of the facility and there are no records of pre-fire plans. Asst. Chief Stewart worked for several minutes with facility employees to gain access to the fire building before being led to the northeast loading dock.
Wharton Fire Chief Bobby Barnett (1101) arrived on scene at 21:56:14, and ordered incoming apparatus to stage until he could establish an area of operations at the front, south side of the plant (A side). Chief Barnett directed Engine 1130 to position approximately 50 feet from the front main entrance of the plant. At 22:09:16, Chief Barnett (1101) established a command post on A side and became the Incident Commander; 1101 directed radio communications for the fireground to be TAC 2 and called for mutual aid from the Hungerford and El Campo Fire Departments. Chief Barnett described the conditions on side A as smoky with no fire showing. Light winds were from the east, side D, pushing the smoke toward the area of the processing room, and the front, side A, of the building.
Maxim Egg Farm Manager David Copeland, a former Wharton VFD Chief, advised Command and firefighters that the fire was in the area of the Boiler Room and should be accessed by breaching an exterior wall in the employee break area. Chief Barnett ordered Wharton crews to the breach attempt. Captain Thomas Araguz III, Captain John Cano and Firefighter Paul Maldonado were involved with this operation. The crews working in this area were in full structural personnel protective clothing and SCBA.
At 22:10, Command ordered Engine 1130 and Tanker 1160 to set up at the front entrance using Tanker 1160 for portable dump tank operations for water re-supply.
On D side, difficulty accessing the fire from the exterior of the building was reported by Asst. Chief Stewart and the crews. Heavy doors, locked loading dock doors and steel exterior paneling, required the crews to spend extra time forcing entry.
At 22:17:23, Wharton County Chief Deputy Bill Copeland (3122), once a Wharton FD volunteer firefighter, notified Command that the fire was now through the roof over Dry Storage 1.
Chief Barnett noticed smoke conditions improving at the main plant doorway and ordered crews to advance lines into the processor room. Chief Barnett stated he assigned Captain Araguz, Captain Cano and Firefighter Maldonado because they were the most experienced and senior crews available.
Positive Pressure Ventilation (PPV) was in place at the main entry door when Captain Cano, Captain Araguz and Firefighter Maldonado entered the structure into the processing room. There are no radio transmissions to verify exact entry times.
Captain Cano stated that an employee had to assist fire crews with entry into the main plant through a door with keypad access. Captain Cano reported the door to processing was held open by a three-ring binder that he jammed under the door after entry. Cano stated there was low visibility and moderate heat overhead. Captain Cano and Captain Araguz made entry on a right-hand wall working their way around numerous obstacles. The line was not yet charged and they returned to the doorway and waited for water. Wharton Engine 1130’s driver reported in his interview that he had difficulty establishing a draft from the portable tank later determined to be a linkage failure on the priming pump. 1160 connected directly to 1130 and drafted from the folding tank.
As the crew entered into the structure through the main entry door, several plant employees began entering into the administration offices through the area of the main entry door to remove files and records. This was reported to Command at 22:23 and after several minutes Chief Barnett ordered employees to stay out of the building and requested assistance from the Sheriff’s Office to maintain scene security.
At 22:31, once the line was charged, the two captains continued into the processor on the right wall leaving Maldonado at the doorway to feed hose. Captain Cano was first with the nozzle and described making it 20 feet into the building.
Cano states in his interview that he advised Command over the radio that there was high heat and low visibility, although the transmission is not recorded. Cano also reported in his interview, he could not walk through the area and had to use a modified duck walk. Cano projected short streams of water towards the ceiling in a “penciling” motion and noted no change in heat or smoke conditions. They advanced until the heat became too great and they retreated towards the center of the processor. Cano stated that they discussed their next tactic and decided to try a left-handed advance.
At 22:33, Chief Barnett advised, “advancing hose streams in main building to try to block it.”
Captain Araguz took the nozzle and Captain Cano advanced with him holding onto Araguz’ bunker gear. The crew advanced along the south wall of the processing room toward the double doors to Dry Storage 3 and lost contact with the hose line.
The investigation found the couplings between the first and second sections of the hose lodged against a threaded floor anchor (see photo) preventing further advancement of the line. How the team lost the hose line remains uncertain.
Captain Cano stated in his interview that Captain Araguz told him to call a Mayday. Captain Cano stated that he was at first confused by the request, but after some time it became apparent they lost the hose line. Captain Cano reported calling Mayday on the radio but never received a reply. Captain Cano now believes he may have inadvertently switched channels at his previous transmission reporting interior conditions. Captain Araguz had a radio but it was too damaged to determine operability. There are no recorded transmissions from Captain Araguz.
At 22:37, Deputy Chief Copeland advised Command that the fire had breached a brick wall and was entering the main packing plant. Command responded that there was a hose team inside.
At 22:42:50, Command radioed “Command to hose team 1, Cano.” This was the first of several attempts to contact Captain Cano and Captain Araguz. At 22:47:17, Command ordered Engine 1130 to sound the evacuation horn. At 22:50:44, Command announced Mayday over the radio, stating “unlocated fireman in the building.”
Captain Cano stated in his interview that they made several large circles in an attempt to locate the fire hose.
Cano became entangled in wiring, requiring him to doff his SCBA.
After re-donning his SCBA, Captain Cano noted he lost his radio, but found a flash light. He remembered that his low air warning was sounding as he and Araguz searched for the hose. Cano stated that they made it to an exterior wall and decided to attempt to breach the wall. Working in near zero visibility,
Captain Cano reported losing contact with Captain Araguz while working on breaching the wall.
Shortly after he lost contact, Captain Cano ran out of air and removed his mask. Captain Cano continued working to breach the exterior wall until he was exhausted.
At 22:54, crews working on the exterior of the building near the employee break area reported hearing tapping on the wall in the area of the employee break room.
Crews mustered tools and began to cut additional holes through the building exterior.
After making two openings, Captain Cano was located and removed from the building.
Captain Cano reported that Captain Araguz was approximately 15 feet inside of the building ahead of him.
Firefighters made entry through the exterior hole but were unsuccessful in locating Captain Araguz. Cano was escorted to the folding water tank and got into the tank to cool down.
Rapid Intervention Crews (RIC) were established using mutual aid members from the Hungerford and El Campo Fire Departments. The first entry made was at the main entry door where Firefighter Maldonado was located. Maldonado was relieved and escorted to the ambulance for rehab. An evacuation horn sounded and the first RIC abandoned the interior search and exited the building.
A rescue entry by a second RIC was through the breached wall of Dry Storage 3. After several minutes inside, the evacuation signal sounded due to the rapidly spreading fire and deteriorating conditions. Two additional RICs entered the structure through the loading dock doors of Dry Storage 3. Chief Barnett states that there were a total of four RICs that made entry after the Mayday. After approximately 45 minutes, all rescue attempts ceased.
As the fire extended south toward Dry Storage 3, smoke conditions became so debilitating that Chief Barnett ordered all crews staged near the front of the building on side A to move back and apparatus to relocate. Command assigned Chief Hafer of the Richmond Fire Department to “A” side operations and defensive operations were established. Captain Cano and Firefighter Maldonado were transported to Gulf Coast Medical Center and treated for smoke inhalation.
Fire ground operations continued through the night. Captain Araguz was recovered at approximately
07:40 AM. Command transferred to the Richmond Fire Department Chief Hafer at approximately
07:56 AM as 1101 and the Wharton units escorted Captain Araguz from the scene. All Wharton units cleared the scene at 08:02 AM.
Captain Araguz was transported to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy. The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office performed post mortem examinations on July 4, 2010. Captain Araguz died from thermal injuries and smoke inhalation.
Findings and Recommendations
Recommendations are based upon nationally recognized consensus standards and safety practices for the fire service.
All fire department personnel should know and understand nationally recognized consensus standards, and all fire departments should create and maintain SOGs and SOPs to ensure effective, efficient, and safe firefighting operations.
There were several factors that, when combined, may have contributed to the death of Captain Araguz. It is important that we honor him by learning from the incident.
Water supply became an immediate concern.
Although there are two water storage tanks on the facility with the combined capacity of nearly 44,000 gallons, refilling operations to tankers were slow, accomplished by gravity fill through a 5-inch connection.
A fire department connection attached to the plant’s main water supply pump and plant personnel familiar with the system could have sped up the refilling process at the plant.
Most tankers were sent to hydrants in the City of Boling 3 miles away, which in turn quickly depleted the city water supply.
Other tanker refilling was accomplished at hydrants on the City of Wharton water system, as far as 15 miles away.
Fire protection systems are not required by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 101, Life Safety Code, 2009 Edition for this classification of facility. Fire sprinkler and smoke control systems may have contained the fire to one area, preventing the spread of fire throughout the plant.
Findings and recommendations from this investigation include:
There were no lives to save in the building. An inadequate water supply, lack of fire protection systems in the structure to assist in controlling the spread of the smoke and fire, and the heavy fire near the windward side facilitated smoke and fire spread further into the interior and toward “A” side operations. Along with the size of the building, the large fuel load, and the time period from fire discovery, interior firefighters were at increased risk.
Recommendation: Fire departments should develop Standard Operating Guidelines and conduct training involving risk management and risk benefit analysis during an incident according to Incident Management principles required by NFPA 1500 and 1561.
The concept of risk management shall be utilized on the basis of the following principles:
(a) Activities that present a significant risk to the safety of personnel shall be limited to situations where there is a potential to save endangered lives
(b) Activities that are routinely employed to protect property shall be recognized as inherent risks to the safety of personnel, and actions shall be taken to reduce or avoid these risks.
(c) No risk to the safety of personnel shall be acceptable where there is no possibility to save lives or property.
(d) In situations where the risk to fire department members is excessive, activities shall be limited to defensive operations. NFPA 1500 Chapter 8, 8.3.2
NFPA 1500 ‘Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program’, 2007 ed., and NFPA 1561’Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System’, 2008 ed. Texas Commission on Fire Protection Standards Manual, Chapter 435, Section 435.15
(b) The Standard operating procedure shall:
(1) Specify an adequate number of personnel to safely conduct emergency scene operations;
(2) limit operations to those that can be safely performed by personnel at the scene;
Initial crews failed to perform a 360-degree scene size-up and did not secure the utilities before operations began.
Recommendation: Fire departments should develop Standard Operating Guidelines that require crews to perform a complete scene size-up before beginning operations. A thorough size up will provide a good base for deciding tactics and operations. It provides the IC and on-scene personnel with a general understanding of fire conditions, building construction, and other special considerations such as weather, utilities, and exposures. Without a complete and accurate scene size-up, departments will have difficulty coordinating firefighting efforts.
Fireground Support Operations 1st Edition, IFSTA, Chapter 10 Fundamentals of Firefighting Skills,
NFPA/IAFC, 2004, Chapter 2
The Incident Commander failed to maintain an adequate span of control for the type of incident. Safety, personnel accountability, staging of resources, and firefighting operations require additional supervision for the scope of incident. Radio recordings and interview statements indicate the IC performing several functions including: Command, Safety, Staging, Division A Operations, Interior Operations and Scene Security.
Recommendation: Incident Commanders should maintain an appropriate span of control and assign additional personnel to the command structure as needed. Supervisors must be able to adequately supervise and control their subordinates, as well as communicate with and manage all resources under their supervision. In ICS, the span of control of any individual with incident management supervisory responsibility should range from three to seven subordinates, with five being optimal. The type of incident, nature of the tasks, hazards and safety factors, and distances between personnel and resources all influence span-of-control considerations.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Federal Emergency Management Agency Incident Command Systems http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/ICSpopup.htm#item5 NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter 8, 2007 ed.
The interior fire team advanced into the building prior to the establishment of a rapid intervention crew (RIC).
Recommendation: Fire Departments should develop written procedures that comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Final Rule, 29 CFR Section 1910.134 (g) (4) requiring at least two fire protection personnel to remain located outside the IDLH (Immediate Danger to Life or Health) atmosphere to perform rescue of the fire protection personnel inside the IDLH atmosphere. One of the outside fire protection personnel must actively monitor the status of the inside fire protection personnel and not be assigned other duties. NFPA 1500 8.8.7 At least one dedicated RIC shall be standing by with equipment to provide for the rescue of members that are performing special operations or for members that are in positions that present an immediate danger of injury in the event of equipment failure or collapse.
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Respiratory Protection Standard, CFR 1910.134 (g) (4); Texas Commission on Fire Protection Standards §435.17 – Procedures for Interior Structure Fire Fighting (2-in/2-out rule) NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter 8, 2007 ed. NFPA 1720 Standard on Organization and Deployment Fire Suppression Operations by Volunteer Fire Departments, 2004 ed.
The interior team and Incident Commander did not verify the correct operation of communications equipment before entering the IDLH atmosphere and subsequently did not maintain communications between the interior crew and Command. Although Chief Barnett stated he communicated with Captain Cano, there was no contact with Captain Araguz.
Recommendation: Fire Departments should develop written policies requiring the verification of the correct operations of communications equipment of each firefighter before crews enter an IDLH atmosphere. Fire Departments should also include training for their members on the operation of communications equipment in zero visibility conditions.
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Respiratory Protection Standard, CFR 1910.134(g)(3)(ii) NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter 8, 2007 ed.
The interior operating crew did not practice effective air management techniques for the size and complexity of the structure. Interviews indicate the crew expended breathing air while attempting to breach an exterior wall for approximately 10 minutes, then advanced a hose line into a 15,000 square feet room without monitoring their air supply. During interviews Captain Cano estimated his consumption limit at 15 – 20 minutes on a 45 minute SCBA.
Recommendation: Crews operating in IDLH atmospheres must monitor their air consumption rates and allot for sufficient evacuation time. Known as the point of no return, it is that time at which the remaining operation time of the SCBA is equal to the time necessary to return safely to a non-hazardous atmosphere. The three basic elements to effective air management are:
Know your point of no return (beyond 50 percent of the air supply of the team member with the lowest gauge reading).
Know how much air you have at all times.
Make a conscious decision to stay or leave when your air is down to 50 percent.
IFSTA . Essentials of Fire Fighting and Fire Department Operations, 5th ed., Chapter 5, Air Management, page 189 Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills, 2nd edition, NFPA and International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chapter 17, Fire Fighter Survival.
Captains Araguz and Cano became separated from their hoseline. While it is unclear as to the reason they became separated from the hose line, interviews with Captain Cano indicate that while he was finding an exterior wall and took actions to alert the exterior by banging and kicking the wall, he lost contact with Captain Araguz.
**Captain Cano credits his survival to the actions he learned from recent Mayday, Firefighter Safety training.
Recommendation: Maintaining contact with the hose line is critical. Losing contact with the hose line meant leaving the only lifeline and pathway to safety. Team integrity provides an increased chance for survival. All firefighters should become familiar with and receive training on techniques for survival and self-rescue.
United States Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy training course “Firefighter Safety: Calling the Mayday” Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills, 2nd edition, NFPA and International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chapter 17, Fire Fighter Survival.
Additional References Related to Surviving the Mayday and RIT operations from 2011 Safety Week at CommandSafety.com;
An estimated 5,900 restaurant building fires occur annually in the United States, resulting in an estimated average of 75 injuries and $172 million in property loss.
The leading cause of all restaurant building fires is cooking at 59 percent and nearly all of these cooking fires (91 percent) are small, confined fires with limited damage.
While cooking is the leading cause of all restaurant building fires as well as the smaller, confined restaurant building fires, electrical malfunction is the leading cause of the larger, nonconfined restaurant building fires.
Nonconfined restaurant building fires most often start in cooking areas and kitchens (41 percent).
Deep fryers (9 percent), ranges (7 percent), and miscellaneous kitchen and cooking equipment (5 percent) are the leading types of equipment involved in ignition in nonconfined restaurant building fires.
Smoke alarms were reported as present in 44 percent of nonconfined restaurant building fires. In addition, full or partial automatic extinguishment systems, mainly sprinklers, were present in 47 percent of nonconfined restaurant building fires.
Time of Alarm
Restaurant Building Fires is part of the Topical Fire Report Series. Topical reports explore facets of the U.S. fire problem as depicted through data collected in NFIRS.
Each topical report briefly addresses the nature of the specific fire or fire-related topic, highlights important findings from the data, and may suggest other resources to consider for further information. Also included are recent examples of fire incidents that demonstrate some of the issues addressed in the report or that put the report topic in context.
Additional Insights and Links
NIOSH REPORT:Restaurant Fire Claims the Life of Two Career Fire Fighters – Texas, 2000 HERE
Operational Safety Recommendations
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar incidents, fire departments should
ensure that the department’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are followed
ensure that fire command always maintains close accountability for all personnel at the fire scene
ensure that Incident Command conducts an initial size-up of the incident before initiating fire fighting efforts and continually evaluates the risk versus gain during operations at an incident
ensure that vertical ventilation takes place to release any heat, smoke, and fire
ensure that fire fighters are trained to identify truss roof systems
ensure that fire fighters use extreme caution when operating on or under a lightweight truss roof and should develop standard operating procedures for buildings constructed with lightweight roof trusses
ensure that fire fighters performing fire fighting operations under or above trusses are evacuated as soon as it is determined that the trusses are exposed to fire
explore using a thermal imaging camera as a part of the exterior size-up
ensure that, whenever there is a change in personnel, all personnel are briefed and understand the procedures and operations required for that shift, station, or duty
ensure that, whenever a building is known to be on fire and is occupied, all exits are forced and blocked open
consider providing all fire fighters with portable radios or radios integrated into their face pieces
consider adding additional staff in accordance with NFPA standards
establish various written standard operating procedures, ensure record keeping, and conduct annual evaluations to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their overall SCBA maintenance program.
Additionally, building owners, utility providers, and municipalities should
ensure that all exterior building utilities are accessible and in working condition
consider placing the building’s construction information on an exterior placard
upgrade or modify older structures to incorporate new codes and standards to improve occupancy and fire fighter safety
The Colerain Township (OH) Fire and EMS Department under the leadership of Director and Chief G. Bruce Smith released its final report Investigation Analysis of the Squirrels nest Lane Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths related to the April 4, 2008 Double Line of Duty Death of a Captain and Firefighter in April 2010 coinciding with the two year anniversary of the event.
This investigative analysis and report, although specific to the events and conditions encountered during the conduct of operation at the residential occupancy at 5708 Squirrelsnest Lane has pertinent and relevant insights, recommendations and factors that all Fire Service personnel, regardless of rank should read.
I recently lectured on this incident and the lessons learned at a regional seminar on occupancy profiling and tactical operations, which resulted in significant discussions and dialog pertaining not only to this event but also to the adverse trend and series of incidents reported nationally in the later part of 2010 and early into 2011 related to comprised or collapsed floor systems and a number of firefighter close calls. There continues to be a number of prevailing philosphies and points of view related to the level of fire ground aggressiveness, tactical patience and level of preparedness demanded on today’s fire ground. I’ve previously posted some insights on these events and these points of view on our Commandsafety.com site and other eMedia sites.
There still appears to be so much that needs to said; lectured, taught, reinforced or just plain introduced to get company and command officers “insightful” into the operational issues affecting modern fire suppression theory, methodologies, operational safety at basement fires or lower elevation fires, compromise and collapse situational awareness, being combat ready during the response and into arrival sequencing and being able to read the building and fire more effectively and accurately.
I recently had the honor to facilitated an insightful radio program on Taking it to the Streets related to a close-call resulting from a catastrophic and complete floor system collapse in a residential occpancy(HERE) during fire suppression operations and the lessons learned and insights from that event and its recording in the National Firefigher Near Miss Reporting System. Take the time to read about the event ( NMR Report #10-1072) or download the program.
There are tremendous lessons to be shared and learned from the Colerain Township incident, and its one of the required readings that all command and company officers should have on their radar screen (see Commandsafety.com, HERE)
This is one of those distinctive reports that has influential and critical operational, training and preparedness elements embedded throughout the report. Following my review of the report, having previously read the preliminary report findings, it is apparent there continues to be common threads shared by this and other events and incidents where a single of multiple firefighters have lost their lives due to similarities in the apparent and common cause deficiencies and short comings identified.
All company and command officers should read and comprehend the lessons learned. Then, take these new found insights and see what the gaps are at the personal level (yours or those you supervise) as well as the shift, group, station, battalion, division or department as a whole.
If there are gaps, then identify a way to implement timely changes as necessary so there are No History Repeating (HRE) events. Learn from these events….
Thank you to the firefighters, officers and leadership of the Colerain Township (OH) Fire and EMS Department for the comprehensive insights that this report provides and towards the promise that these lessons-learned may one day help a firefighter, crew, company or fire ground in their combat engagement and mission. Do not take any run or response for granted; be combat ready at all levels.
I have provided a comprehensive synopsis of the report for your review. Take the time to read the entire report, make the time to improve where you need to.
On Friday, April 4, 2008 at 06:13:02 hours, what began as a routine response for Colerain Township Fire and EMS Engine 102 to investigate a fire alarm activation at 5708 Squirrels nest Lane, Colerain Township, Ohio resulted in the deaths of Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira.
Upon their arrival at the scene of the two-story wood framed, residential building working fire conditions existed in the basement. The initial attack team consisted of Broxterman, Schira, and one other firefighter. The team advanced a 1¾-inch attack hose line through the interior of the building for fire control.
Even though, they were provided with some of the most technologically advanced protective clothing for structural firefighting and self-contained breathing apparatus, it appeared that Broxterman and Schira were overwhelmed by severe fire conditions in the basement.
During their attempt to evacuate the building, the main-level family room flooring system in which the two were traveling on collapsed into the basement trapping the firefighters. Eleven minutes elapsed from time of arrival to the catastrophic chain of events.
The investigation of this incident provided a number of findings and recommendations that should be considered by Colerain’s fire department, as well as other fire department organizations. The examination encompassed issues that related to building construction, firefighting tactics, command and control, situational awareness, communications, training, firefighting equipment and the individual responsibility of firefighters of the Colerain Township Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (Colerain Fire & EMS). In addition, a segment of the examination included a review of the individual and group affects following such an event, and the measures initiated that attempted to ensure individual, family and organizational wellness.
The following factors were believed to have directly contributed to the deaths of Captain Broxterman and Firefighter Schira:
A delayed arrival at the incident scene that allowed the fire to progress significantly;
A failure to adhere to fundamental firefighting practices; and
A failure to abide by fundamental firefighter self-rescue and survival concepts
Although the aforementioned factors were believed to have directly contributed to their deaths, they might have been prevented if:
Some personnel had not been complacent or apathetic in their initial approach to this incident;
Some personnel were in a proper state of mind that made them more observant of their surroundings and indicators;
The initial responding units were provided with all pertinent information in a
timely manner relative to the incident;
Personnel assigned to Engine 102 possessed a comprehensive knowledge of their first-due response area;
A 360-degree size-up of the building accompanied by a risk – benefit analysis
was conducted by the company officer prior to initiating interior fire suppression operations;
Comprehensive standard operating guidelines specifically related to structural
firefighting existed within the department;
The communications system users (on-scene firefighters and those monitoring the incident) weren’t all vying for limited radio air time;
The communications equipment and accessories utilized were more appropriate for the firefighting environment;
Certain tactical-level decisions and actions were based on the specific conditions;
Personnel had initiated fundamental measures to engage in if they were to become disoriented or trapped inside a burning building; and
Issued personal protective equipment was utilized in the correct manner.
On Friday, April 4, 2008, at 06:11:23, the Hamilton County Communications Center (HCCC) received notification of an automatic alarm activation (smoke detector and carbon monoxide) at 5708 Squirrels nest Lane (LN).
An automatic fire alarm response complement of two engine companies (Engines 102 & 109), one ladder company (Ladder 25), and the Battalion Chief (District 25) were dispatched to investigate at 06:13:02.
At 06:13:43, a second notification was received from the female homeowner reporting a fire in the basement of the building.
At 06:20:43, a third notification by means of a cellular phone from the female homeowner to HCCC routed through the City of Cincinnati’s Fire and Police Communications Center was received.
At 06:22:41, the initial response complement was then upgraded to a building fire, also known as a structure fire response complement to include one additional engine company (Engine 25), one rescue company (Rescue 26), and one basic life support transport unit (Squad 25).
Property and Building Description: The building at 5708 Squirrels nest LN was a single-family residence that set back approximately 450-feet from the street at the end of a private driveway on a heavily wooded lot.
The building was two-stories in height, approximately 45-feet wide by 30-feet deep with a finished below-grade (basement) living space and attached two-car garage.
For simplicity, the report refers to the living space under the main-level of the building as a basement.
From the front (side Alpha), the building was two-stories above grade. The vertical distance between floors was approximately eight-feet. The exterior main entrance was located in the front middle of the building approximately one-foot above grade level.
Additional entrances to the first-floor living space were by means of a rear entry door from an upper-level deck area and through the garage area.
The interior stairway to the basement was located approximately 15-feet from the front main entry door towards the rear of the building. There were no exposed buildings on the adjacent sides of the fire building.
The building was located approximately 450-feet from the curb and a driveway leading to the front entrance. The nearest fire hydrant was located approximately 500- feet from the front entrance. To provide for uniform identification of locations and operationalforces at the incident scene, the scene was divided geographically into smaller parts, which were designated as sectors. Specific areas of the incident scene were designated as follows:
The side of the building that bears the postal address of the location was designated as Side Alpha or front by the Incident Commander;
The property sloped downward towards the rear (side Charlie) of the building with an approximate 13-foot elevation difference from side Alpha to Charlie. The
Charlie side of the building was three-stories above the rear grade level with the building’s basement floor approximately five-feet above grade level. The exterior entrance to the building’s’ basement area, also known as a walk-out was by means of a stairway that led to a wooden deck on the Charlie side adjacent to the Delta side. A second stairway led to an upper level deck that served the main level of the building.
Initial Fire Attack Operation: Upon arrival at the incident address, Engine 102 (E102), assigned four personnel (one captain, one fire apparatus operator [FAO], and two firefighters) entered and proceeded down the driveway deploying a five-inch supply hose line.
With their apparatus positioned in front of the building Captain (Capt.) Broxterman radioed, “Moderate smoke showing. E102 will be Squirrelsnest Command.” at 06:24:01.
Verification was made by the E102’s FAO through face-to-face communication with the male homeowner that all occupants were out of the building, which was then relayed to Capt. Broxterman.
District 25 (D25) arrived at the scene at 06:26:35 and assumed Command from Capt. Broxterman. Capt. Broxterman, Firefighter (Ffr.) Schira and E102’s Ffr. #2 advanced a 1¾-inch pre-connected hose line through the front main entrance. The fire was determined to be located in the basement of the building.
At 06:27:52, Capt. Broxterman radioed, “E102 making entry into the basement, heavy smoke”.
At 06:30:35, E109′s captain radioed, “Command from E109, contact 102,have them pull out of the first floor, redeploy to the back. It’s easy access. Conditions are changing at the front door.”
At 06:34:48, Engine 25 (E25), the designated Rapid Assistance Team, had just completed their 360-degree size-up around the building, and encountered E102’s Ffr. #2 in front of the building, whom reported that he had lost contact with his crew.
During the time period between 06:29:24 and 06:34:48, the investigation committee believed that one or more catastrophic events occurred including a failure of the main-level flooring system near the Beta – Charlie corner of the building.
Rescue and Recovery Operations
At 06:35:34, the Incident Commander (IC) identified a potential Mayday operation, which indicates a life threatening situation to a firefighter.
RAT25 was deployed at 06:36:48. The actual Mayday operation was initiated by the IC at 06:37:41 followed by a request at 06:37:53 to the HCCC for a second alarm complement of firefighting resources.
At 06:42:01, RAT25 entered the basement from the rear of the building. At 07:00:27, E26’s personnel entered through the front main entrance of the building and into the basement by means of the interior stairway.
Both missing firefighters were located in the basement near the Charlie side wall adjacent to the Beta side following a floor collapse. Capt. Broxterman and Ffr. Schira were obviously deceased as a result of their injuries.
Fire Origin and Cause: Information from the property owners was that the female had smelled an odor in the house. She told her husband, who went to investigate. Neither of them observed any smoke or flames at that time. The husband went to the basement, and located a fire near a cedar wood lined closet used to cultivate orchids in the unfinished utility room. He attempted to extinguish the fire with portable fire extinguishers and pans of water. As the fire alarm activated, the husband had his wife call 9-1-1 to report the fire. The state of Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office Fire and Explosion Investigation Bureau ruled the fire to be accidental in nature. The fire was determined to have originated in the unfinished utility room of the basement level in or near the cedar closet. This area was directly below the family room on the first floor. The probable ignition source for this fire was determined to be at and about a plastic air circulation fan and the associated electrical wiring.
Cause of Deaths
Capt. Broxterman was a 37-year old employee of the Colerain Fire & EMS with approximately 17-years of certified firefighting experience. Capt. Broxterman became trapped in the basement area for a prolonged amount of time following the sudden floor collapse. Capt. Broxterman was found positioned face down over top of Ffr. Schira. The majority of her protective clothing ensemble and equipment were heavily damaged as a result of exposure to heat and direct flame impingement. She was pronounced deceased following her removal from the building. Her body was transported to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office for autopsy. The Coroner’s report cited the manner of death as “accidental” and the cause of death as “burns and inhalation of smoke and superheated and noxious gases.” Capt. Broxterman sustained burns to 100% of her body surface, which ranged from first to fourth degree in severity as described in the coroner’s autopsy report. Postmortem carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), which is a measure of carbon monoxide exposure, was measured at 22% saturation and soot was observed in portions of her upper and lower respiratory system.
Based on the injuries sustained and the damage to Capt. Broxterman’s protective clothing ensemble and equipment, it is likely that she was exposed to a rapid intensification of heat and flames in the building’s basement that overwhelmed her protective ensemble and equipment, exposing her body and respiratory system to intense heat and toxic products of combustion.
Ffr. Schira was a 29-year old employee of Colerain Fire & EMS with approximately 3½-years of certified firefighting experience. He also became trapped in the basement area for a prolonged amount of time following the sudden floor collapse. Ffr. Schira was found positioned on his right side and back, face-up beneath Capt. Broxterman. The majority of his protective clothing ensemble and equipment was heavily damaged as a result of exposure to heat and direct flame impingement. Ffr. Schira was pronounced deceased following his removal from the building. His body was transported to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office for autopsy. The Coroner’s report cited the manner of death as “accidental” and the cause of death as “burns and inhalation of smoke and superheated and noxious gases”. Ffr. Schira sustained burns to 100% of his body surface, which ranged from first to fourth degree in severity as described in the coroner’s autopsy report. Postmortem COhb was measured at 8% saturation and soot was observed in portions of his upper and lower respiratory system.
Based on the injuries sustained and the damage to Ffr. Schira’s protective equipment, it is likely that that he was exposed to a rapid intensification of heat and flames in the building’s basement that overwhelmed his protective ensemble and equipment, exposing his body and respiratory system to intense heat and toxic products of combustion.
Select Findings and Recommendations
Findings, Discussions and Recommendations
FINDING #3.1: The area of fire origin had no finished ceiling, which exposed the floor joists and the underside of the floor decking to direct fire impingement causing rapid deterioration and failure of the flooring system directly underneath the main-level family room.
During this incident, based on communications transcripts (telephone and radio) it’s probable that the fire had advanced from its incipient stage to a free burning stage in approximately 18 to 20-minutes by the time Capt. Broxterman radioed that they were making entry into the basement.
As stated in the Incident Overview section, during the time period between 06:29:24 and 06:34:48, it is believed that one or more catastrophic events occurred within the building, which included a failure of the flooring system near the Beta-Charlie corner of the building’s first floor.
It has been widely believed in the firefighting profession that traditional sawn lumber is far superior to some of the more innovative lightweight construction components (e.g., wood I-joist) in use today. With dimensional lumber, two-inch by eight-inch and larger, there is a greater surface to mass ratio to resist the damaging effects of fire and the structural components will maintain their integrity for a longer period of time. While this has traditionally been accurate, this incident clearly shows that this may not always be the case. Heavy charring was evident to structural members in the fire area of origin. Notice the burn damage shows how the wooden floor joists had been burned to and away from the band joist. A band joist is a vertical member that forms the perimeter of a floor system in which the floor joists tie in to. Also known as the rim joist. Early platform framed homes very likely used solid, dimensional lumber and plywood, which provided a reasonable surface to mass ratio. But the later the home was built, the less mass even dimensional lumber has due to the reduction in the actual thickness of solid dimensional lumber provided by the lumber industry through the mid-1900’s. As the years go by, building materials will likely keep getting lighter and lighter and introduce more resins and other chemicals.
Laboratory tests that exposed structural wood components to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E119 Assembly Test indicated that a traditional two-inch by ten-inch structural member failed in 12-minutes and six-seconds. ASTM E119 test is the standard test method for evaluating building and construction materials exposed to fire. Unlike the standardized ASTM test fires, it is widely recognized that real building fires are highly variable in their size, rate of growth and intensity. Responding firefighters are unlikely to know when a given fire started, how hot it had been prior to arrival, how long it had been at any given temperature, the design capacity and actual loads on the floors over the fire or the amount of actual damage that the fire may have done to the joists. All of these factors make it impossible to predict the remaining capacity of a floor by even the most knowledgeable, professional fire experts.
RECOMMENDATION #3.1a: Fire departments should ensure that firefighters and incident commanders are aware that unprotected floor and ceiling joist systems, no matter the type, may fail at a faster rate when exposed to direct fire impingement.
Unfinished basement ceilings and other areas that have exposed joists or trusses jeopardize flooring and roof systems unnecessarily during a fire, causing premature failure. Often, a weakened floor and ceiling joist system can be difficult to detect from above as the floor surface above may still appear intact. Firefighters operating on floors above fire-damaged joist systems may fall through a weakened area and become trapped in a fire below. IC’s and firefighters must be aware that these systems can fail rapidly and without warning, and plan interior operations accordingly.
Firefighters must also be aware that while floor sag may be a widely accepted warning of an impending structural failure, floor sag is not always present or visible prior to a catastrophic collapse in a fire, regardless of the joist type, due to floor coverings, the fire’s intensity, the combination of joist spans and loads present, the location of serious structural fire damage or simply because it is too dark and smoky to see a sag in the floor. This is true for all types of structural joists, including materials such as sawn lumber, wood I-joists, and open web wood trusses and noncombustible members such as lightweight steel joists. The floor covering in this area was carpeting that transitioned to ceramic tile. When unprotected, any traditional or lightweight residential floor or ceiling assembly material, either combustible or noncombustible, may fail within several minutes of the fire’s ignition. It makes sense, therefore, that when there is a serious fire beneath a floor, there is no predictable safe amount of time that anyone can remain on that floor. Any floor system protected or not, can fail unpredictably when exposed to a substantial fire beneath.
FINDING # 4.2: E102′s officer failed to properly analyze the scene by not performing a 360-degree scene size-up to determine an overall strategy, and implement safe and effective firefighting tactics.
After the apparatus was positioned in front of the building, E102’s FAO was ordered by Capt. Broxterman to, “Ask the homeowner where the fire [location] was”, which was indicated to be in the basement by the male homeowner. As this was taking place, Capt. Broxterman continued donning her protective clothing ensemble (coat, helmet and self-contained breathing apparatus). Although E102′s officer provided a brief radio report of conditions observed upon arrival, she did not properly evaluate the scene so as to develop a basic strategy for implementation of safe and effective firefighting tactics. Had the officer visually evaluated the Charlie side of the building, the advanced fire conditions may have been noted, and that the lower level fire area was accessible by means of an exterior entry door for a more direct fire attack from the interior unburned side.
This means that firefighters enter a building and position the attack hose line between the fire and the uninvolved portions of the building. This direction of fire attack is preferred because it is likely to contain the fire, protect occupants, and push heat and gases out of the building if ventilation has been performed. On the other hand, danger increases significantly when attacking from the unburned side and is not always practical based on fire location, intensity, and building construction.
It cannot be conclusively known as to why Capt. Broxterman and Ffr. Schira proceeded into the area of the building that eventually collapsed resulting in their deaths. The investigation committee has concluded that the most probable explanation is that E102′s three-person interior team was successful in advancing their uncharged attack hose line into the basement recreation room area; reaching a point approximately 10 to15-feet from the bottom of the basement stairway as shown in the Incident Overview chapter. Once the team reached this area, it was realized they did not have sufficient hose line to continue advancing towards the seat of the fire. The team’s third member (Ffr. #2) reversed his travel and made his way back to the exterior of the building to advance additional hose line. As the team of two waited for additional hose line to be stretched and the hose line to be charged by the pump operator, the interior conditions rapidly deteriorated to a stage that it became untenable for them to hold their position.
The team evacuated back-up the stairway without following the hose line, which by all indications was tight up against the stairway wall and tightly wrapped around the stairway door entry. Once at the top of the stairway, one of the two deceased, if not both were likely in some form of distress; became disoriented and proceeded into the family room in a direction opposite the route of travel from which they entered the building. As the two moved across the family room floor, the flooring system collapsed into the utility room area of the basement. When the third team member re-entered the building, he was unable to locate the other two members.
The inability of Ffr. #2 to locate his team and the loss of radio communications contact with the interior team prompted the IC to declare a Mayday and activation of the RATs. This incident resulted in tragedy primarily due to the concealment of several burned-through floor joists under the carpet covered flooring system, which was nearly impossible to recognize due to heavy smoke conditions inside the burning building.
The following factors are believed to have directly contributed to the deaths that occurred in this incident:
The delayed arrival at the incident scene allowed the fire to progress significantly and the hazardous conditions to exponentially increase;
The failure to adhere to fundamental firefighting practices (e.g., entry into an enclosed building with obvious working fire conditions without a charged attack hose line)
The failure to abide by the fundamental concepts of fire fighter self-rescue and survival (e.g., following of the hose line in the direction of travel back to the building’s entrance or exit).
Although the aforementioned factors are believed to have directly contributed to the deaths reported here, they might have been prevented if:
Some personnel had not been complacent or apathetic in their initial approach to this incident which eventually led to being overwhelmed in their response to their initial findings;
Some personnel were in a proper state of mind that made them more observant of their surroundings and indicators, and the potential threats and risks that presented themselves;
The initial responding units were provided with all pertinent information in a
timely manner relative to the incident, especially critical was the information given to the emergency communications center from the homeowners reporting an actual fire
Personnel assigned to E102 possessed a comprehensive knowledge of their firstdue response area specifically related to road and street locations, and any particular characteristics related to those areas.
A 360-degree size-up of the building accompanied by a risk – benefit analysis was conducted by the company officer prior to initiating interior fire suppression operations; the risk of an action must be weighed against the probable benefit that may be reasonably and realistically expected.
Comprehensive standard operating guidelines specifically related to structural firefighting existed within the department;
The communications system users (on-scene firefighters and those monitoring the incident) weren’t all vying for limited radio air time. This competition led to missed and distorted messages and less than efficient use of resources, which exacerbated the problems of already taxed communications.
The communications equipment and accessories utilized were more appropriate for the firefighting environment;
Certain tactical-level decisions and actions were based on the specific conditions as encountered with an emphasis placed on fire ground tactical priorities (i.e., life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation);
Personnel had initiated fundamental measures to engage in if they were to become disoriented or trapped inside a burning building; and
Issued personal protective equipment was utilized in the correct manner.
The Colerain Township (OH) Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services’s report examined the events of April 4th, 2008 with the benefit of hindsight, while seeking to be independent, impartial, and thorough. From the beginning, Colerain Fire & EMS has been committed to share our findings with others in the hope that it may prevent another such event.
The deaths of Captain Robin M. Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira had a profound loss not only to their parents, family and this organization, but also to the larger fire service community. In order to prevent these tragic losses in the future, we must first understand how and why our sister and brother firefighters died. We must learn from their incident and take that knowledge forward. If it was possible, what would these firefighters tell us today that might prevent a similar death of a firefighter in the future? What would they want us as firefighters, company officers and chief officers to know about the circumstances that lead to their deaths and the things we (and they) might have done to alter the most tragic of outcomes?
From the information that was made available for review, it was evident that these two individuals were well-loved in life, and greatly missed in death. Every line of duty death of a firefighter in the United States is significant. This investigative analysis document is dedicated to Captain Broxterman and Firefighter Schira, their families, friends and the community whose lives were forever changed. In working to improve the health and safety of all United States firefighters, we have much to learn from the supreme sacrifice of these two individuals, who they were in life and in death. We honor their memories.
Colerain Township Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Web Site HERE
Investigation Analysis of the Squirrels nest Lane Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths April, 2010 Full Report HERE
NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report F2008-09| CDC/NIOSH July, 2009, Report HERE
Dollar Store, Main Street West, Listowel, Ontario Canada
Two volunteer firefighters were killed in the line of duty in southwestern Ontario, Canada on Thursday while battling a commercial department-store fire in Listowel, Ont., which is 160 kilometres east of Toronto, Ontario
Perth OPP were called at 15:30 hours ET, to help the volunteer fire department deal with the structure fire. Published reports are indicating the fire had broken out in the roof of a Dollar Stop store, where roofers had previously been working.
A short time later, two firefighters were unaccounted for. Firefighters conducted a search of the building and found the two downed firefighters who had succumbed to injuries they suffered while fighting the fire.
No further details about the victims were available at the present time. The firefighters’ bodies were still in the building at 20:00 hours., ET, Thursday, and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office had taken over the scene. Fire fighter Line of duty deaths is not common in Canada and having a fire in which there is a double LODD is even more unheard of.
Additional published reports indicated flames all along the west side and flames were shooting out of the roof, with a series of pops, like small explosions being reported.
Four fire stations – Atwood, Listowel, Monkton and Milverton – all responded to the blaze.
The firefighters were in the process of completing a primary search within the building when the roof collapsed, the QMI Agency has learned.
Witnesses said smoke was first spotted coming from the roof of the Dollar Stop store at about 3:30 p.m.
A short time later, two firefighters from the North Perth Fire Department were reported missing inside the single-storey structure. They were later found dead, but their bodies had not been recovered Thursday night.
Killed were 30-year-old Raymond Walter of Listowel, and 56-year-old Kenneth Rea of Atwood. Rea was the deputy district chief for the Atwood station, one of three serving North Perth.
Emergency crews on the scene of a fatal fire in Listowel ON, March 17, 2011. Courtesy AM920 CKNX Listowel, Ont.,
At 18 minutes after noon on February 26, 1993, a huge bomb went off beneath the two towers of the World Trade Center. This was not a suicide attack. The terrorists parked a truck bomb with a timing device on Level B-2 of the underground garage, then departed. The ensuing explosion opened a hole seven stories up. Six people died. More than a thousand were injured. An FBI agent at the scene described the relatively low number of fatalities as a miracle.Eight and one half years prior to the devastatingly fatal blows to the World Trade Center in New York, a Ryder truck carrying approximately 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of a homemade fertilizer-based explosive detonates at 12:18 in the afternoon.
The blast produced a crater stretching over 150 feet through five floors on the 26th of February 1993. Let it also be noted that this was the second anniversary of the ending of the first Gulf War. Initial reports suggested that the blast was the result of an exploded generator, but evidence gathered shortly thereafter suggested that it was clearly a malicious act that resulted in the injuries of over 1,000 people, and the deaths of six others.
The mastermind behind this terrorist attack was Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, a previously sought criminal who was suspected for the formulation of criminal plots against Pope John Paul II, President Bill Clinton, and potentially fatal attacks against numerous flights in 1995. Yousef’s capture later that year lead to the discovery of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s network of loosely tied Islamic militants. Yousef was convicted of the WTC bombing on November 12, 1997; however, a concrete analysis of the 1993 WTC attack must include an in depth examination of this figure, which will be discussed further.
On that fateful day in 1993, dispatcher Frank Raffa, of the FDNY, recalls the sentiment of the initial emergency phone call. “The working theory was that a transformer vault explosion had occurred in the basement of the World Trade Center Complex.”
However, as Raffa Writes, “Normally, when a fire or emergency occurs that generates numerous phone calls, the phones stop ringing once an apparatus arrives. This time the phones never stopped.” This was the sign that a major catastrophe was developing.” Such calls indicated that smoke spread through the first thirty-three floors of the WTC towers, as well as the Vista Hotel, within only three minutes. With such a mass volume of telephone calls from panicking personnel in need of immediate help, the incident command was divided into three zones, one for each affected building.
Even still, due to the sheer numbers of callers and absent the responders to field these calls, the acts of milling, rumors, and keynoting, the basic components to human interaction during a collective behavior situation, resulted in poor advice from certain actors and mediums. Such an event is described by Raffa:
“One of the newscasters went on the air and advised people in the towers that if they were having trouble breathing, they should break out the glass window. This was the worst thing they could have done. By now the entire tower was filled with smoke and was acting like a 110 story smokestack. About that time I answered a call from someone seeking instructions. By now, we were told to tell all callers to stay where they are, block all air vents with whatever rags they could find, stay calm, and wait. ”
“The caller told me he was going to break out a window. He was on the 54th floor. I advised him not to stating that there are over 500 emergency personnel on the ground and he’d kill someone with the falling debris. Not to mention the fact that the open window will allow smoke to enter the area and vent itself. He hung up and went to break the window. I advised the radio dispatcher to let the command post know to expect falling glass from the 54th floor. Later, the newscaster was “admonished” by his supervisors.”
The bombing was noted as having been the largest incident ever handled in the City of New York Fire Department’s 128-year history prior to September 11, 2001. In toll, based on the number of units that responded, the incident resulted in the equivalent of a 16-alarm fire.
On February 26, 1993, a 1,000-pound nitrourea bomb was detonated inside a rental van on the B2 level of the WTC parking garage, causing massive destruction that spanned seven levels, six below-grade. The L-shaped blast crater on B2 at its maximum measured 130 feet wide by 150 feet long.
The blast epicenter was under the northeast corner of the Vista Hotel
FDNY ultimately responded to the incident with;
84 engine companies,
60 truck companies,
28 battalion chiefs,
9 deputy chiefs,
5 rescue companies and
26 other special units (representing nearly 45 percent of the on-duty staff of FDNY)
The department units maintained a presence at the scene for 28 days
It is estimated that approximately 50,000 people were evacuated from the WTC complex over a course of eleven hours, including nearly 25,000 from each of the two towers
Six people died and 1,042 were injured.
Of those injured;
15 received traumatic injuries from the blast itself
Nearly 20 people complained of cardiac problems, and nearly 30 pregnant women were rescued. Eighty-eight firefighters (one requiring hospitalization),
35 police officers, and one EMS worker sustained injuries
Fire alarm dispatchers received more than 1,000 phone calls, most reporting victims trapped on the upper floors of the towers
Search and evacuation of the towers were finally completed some 11 hours after the incident began
Major structural damage to the buildings, absent the five-level crater, included partition walls blown out onto the PATH train mezzanine, damaged fire alarm and public address systems, as well as temporary termination of elevator service for several weeks.
There also resulted the almost complete termination of power to the complex, as primary circuitry was extensively damaged by the initial blast; in addition, water-cooled emergency generators shut down as a result of overheating when water supply was cut, thus disabling building-wide emergency lighting.
The 16-acre World Trade Center site was bounded by Vesey Street to the north, Church Street to the east, Liberty Street to the south, and West Street to the west. Seven buildings (1 WTC through 7 WTC) were situated around a five-acre plaza. The complex included also the Port Authority-Trans-Hudson (PATH) and Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) WTC stations and Concourse areas. Underneath a sizable portion of the main WTC Plaza and 1 WTC, 2 WTC, 3 WTC, and 6 WTC was a six-story subterranean structure.The WTC complex was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and Associates of Troy, Michigan; Emery Roth and Sons of New York acted as the architect of record. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) was the original developer. Excavation of the site began in August 1966. The complex, which offered about 12 million square feet of rentable floor space, was occupied by various government and commercial tenants. The PA had transferred the entire WTC project to a private individual, under a 99-year capital lease, prior to 9-11.The seven complex buildings included the following:
WTC, the 110-story North Tower. Its first tenant took occupancy in December 1970.
WTC, the 110-story South Tower. Occupancy commenced in January 1972.
WTC , the 22-story Marriott Hotel (west of the South Tower).
WTC, a nine-story office building.
WTC, a nine-story office building.
WTC, the eight-story U.S. Customs House building.
WTC, a 47-story office building (north of the WTC site; it housed the New York City Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management facility).
The World Financial Center (WFC) complex, built in the early 1980s, was to the west, across West Street. To the south were the building designed by Cass Gilbert, at 90 West Street, and the Bankers Trust building at 130 Liberty Street. The 1 Liberty Plaza building was to the east and the Verizon building directly to the north.
Who would have imagined in 1993 what events would unfold in 2001 at the WTC complex and for the nation….
Remembering Brackenridge, Pennsylvania December 20, 1991: Four Firefighters Killed, Trapped by Floor Collapse
Four volunteer firefighters died when they were trapped by a partial floor collapse during a structure fire in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, on the morning of December 20, 1991. All four were members of a mutual aid truck company that had responded to the early morning incident and were assigned to prevent fire extension from the basement to the ground floor of a 2-story building.
Although they were wearing full protective clothing and using self-contained breathing apparatus, it appears that they were overwhelmed by the severe fire conditions that erupted when a section of the ground floor collapsed into the basement.
The collapse cut off their primary escape path, and the fire burned through their hose line, leaving them without protection from the flames.
FDNY Citywide Tour Commander Asst Chief Gerard Barbara moments before the first collapse
For many of us, the events of September 11th, 2001 will forever be etched into our minds and hearts. The magnitude and severity of the sacrifices made that day by the FDNY as well as the NYPD, EMS and PANY/NJ uphold the tradition, beliefs, values and ideals that the Fire, Rescue, EMS and Law Enforcement professions embrace. The tragic loss of lives, the promise of the future; the unfulfilled opportunities and contributions that were yet to be recognized or made by many of those killed and the subsequent loss of completing life’s journey with their families, loved ones and comrades further magnifies the senselessness and grief many of us share to this day. FDNY Assistant Chief Gerard Barbara , the Citywide Tour Commander on the morning of September 11th (Remembrance HERE) whose image was profoundly captured standing in the street within the shadow of the twin towers moments before the first collapse provides a poignant reminder of our sworn duty, obligation and responsibilities as firefighters.
As I was preparing to capture some thoughts that reflected upon this, the ninth anniversary of 911, I came across an article that I had written within the subsequent days of September 11th that was published shortly thereafter.
As I began rereading the narrative, the vivid emotions and sentiments that were present in such a raw manner on that day and in the days and weeks that followed came rushing back to the surface. I reflected on the thought that sharing this narrative once again would echo upon some of what we all shared that day and give rise to where we’ve been in our own personal journeys. This is why we must remember, this is why we must never forget.
The First Steps of Our Journey(originally written and published September, 2001)
Tuesday September 11th began unremarkably like many others. I began my instructional delivery of a course of instruction on Incident Command Management for Structural Collapse Rescue Operations as part of the National Fire Academy’s field delivery programs in Ft. Myers, Florida. The class was comprised of Special Operations Battalion Chiefs, Command and Line Officers from throughout the region. As we began our discussion on the needs for urban search and rescue preparedness and its relationship to strategic incident command management and tactical company level capabilities, the Ft. Myers Chief of Department came into the classroom and directed us immediately to the station day room. The time was 08:55 hours, and so began our journey. The class immediately became transfixed upon the televised images streaming before us. The live coverage of the evolving sequence of events, the fire and emergency services responses and the devastation inflicted both in New York City and later in Washington, D.C., and the realization that this was a terrorist attack. For the next three hours we watched in disbelief the unfolding events in New York City at the World Trade Center, each of us fully realizing the magnitude and severity of the incident and the impact inflicted upon the fire, rescue, ems and law enforcement personnel operating at the scene. The transmission of Manhattan Box 55-8087 to the World Trade Center Towers brought New York City’s Bravest and Finest. We witnessed the evolving events of the initial high-rise fires in WTC Tower #1, the vivid images of the second aircraft impacting WTC Tower #2 and shortly thereafter, the horrendous collapse of both towers.
We watched in silence, fully cognizant of the potential toll the resulting collapses could have on the operating personnel and civilians alike. Following numerous telephone calls home and to my fire station, with the impending arrangements and planning being undertaken for our fire department’s possible deployment to NYC, I began a twenty-two hour trek back home. The journey back was consumed with the constant reports filtering through the radio speakers of the ever increasing descriptions of the magnitude and levels of destruction at what has become known as Ground Zero.
The turnpikes I traveled were filled with the passing images of the initial public outpouring of emotions to the day’s tragic events. Lone individuals on overpasses and bridges, waving our nation’s flag. The flags drawn to half staff throughout the communities I passed through and the electronic message boards along the highway, with words of condolence and encouragement in this time of national grief. Still in my Fire Academy shirt with the embroidered words of the NFA and Structural Collapse, I was recognized as a firefighter and approached by numerous people along my route back who questioned the events of the day, who were seeking some sense of understanding for what was becoming recognized as a significant loss of life to unaccounted for fire, rescue, law enforcement and civilians.
There were the unsolicited words of thanks expressed by people at gas pumps and rest areas up the entire east coast, who acknowledged my fire service affiliation and connected to what they may have seen or heard in terms of the of the missing F.D.N.Y. firefighters and N.Y.P.D. law enforcement officers. This level of acknowledgement, seemed so strange, when any other time, we seem to blend into the back ground of everyday life. All for having a fire service emblem on.
During my travel back to Syracuse, New York I listened to every report, every update and the ever increasing numbers of potential missing on the radio. Well after midnight I ran into a colleague of mine at a gas station, an Assistant Fire Chief from the Metro Dade Fire & Rescue Department, Florida who, along with four other urban search and rescue specialists were making their way to Washington, D.C. as part of the deployed FEMA USAR Task Force Team from South Florida. We shared in our grief over the immediate notification at a mayoral press briefing that our close friend FDNY Battalion Chief Ray Downey was identified as one of three chief FDNY Officers who died during the tower collapses.
We also shared in our grief in the initial reports of the over forty FDNY fire, rescue and support companies unaccounted for as a result of the fire suppression, rescue and collapse efforts. The continuing ride gave way to the thoughts and concerns of many of my friends within the FDNY. Were they on shift, are they accounted for, are they safe? I thought about everything that we have tried to prepare for, the years of developing our national urban search and rescue task force system, collapse-rescue training, terrorism preparedness and the images of the WTC events of the morning. I thought deeply of my twenty-six years of fire service involvement, my brother & sister firefighters, and again- the fate of my FDNY brothers and sisters in New York City.
Subsequently in the days that followed, I became glued to the live televised images from Ground Zero and ever increasing reports of the search and rescue efforts deployed at the incident scene. As I watched alone into the early morning hours the images pouring across my television screen or at the fire station with my brother and sister firefighters, I began to contemplate the journey that lay ahead for our nation’s fire and emergency services. We will be forever changed by the events of 9-11. The most recent accounts have identified over three hundred thirty seven confirmed or unaccounted for firefighters, twenty-three law enforcement officers and over five thousand four hundred missing civilians. Rescue efforts remain the focus, with the realization that the probability of live rescues diminishes with each passing hour as the first week of Herculean efforts draws to a close.
The fabric that binds us within the fire and emergency services, the true bonds of brother and sisterhood in this proudest of professions can not be more poignantly depicted than the image of the three brother FDNY firefighters raising the American flag amidst the mountains of rubble and debris where once stood the World Trade Center. Each and every one of us understands the undertakings during the initial stages of operations at the WTC. We, the fire and emergency service providers protect the heart and soul of our respective communities. We understand the risks and challenges affecting our commitment to protect life and property and to meet those challenges armed with our training, preparedness and tools of our trade. We are the first ones in and the last ones out. The challenges ahead will be immense as the rescue efforts at Ground Zero evolve into the recovery mode of operation, and the continued efforts to bring home- back to quarters these missing firefighters.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, we will be witness to ever changing events in this continuing journey. We will share in the pain, grief and emotions that have become so deeply rooted inside of all of us in the course of these events in NYC and in our nations’ capital. For those who provided direct or support service to the events at the WTC, and those who may yet be called upon to render aide in the weeks and months ahead, each of us understands the calling and we also understand the pain. For each and everyone firefighter, rescue and ems provider would, if they could, would be side by side with those working at Ground Zero.
We must remain vigilant to our own community’s risk potential for future events and incidents and must strive to reduce the gap between our capabilities and those identified deficiencies. We must plan and train for the worst, for it’s not a matter of IF , it’s just a matter of WHEN. Our nation’s fire and emergency services have begun a journey, one that no one could have imagined, yet one that each will meet head- on. Remain safe, stay strong, and meet the challenges of your next alarm, with faith and the foundation of principles that have made our fire services what they are. We are all part of a brotherhood, we share a common belief and mission-we know our duty, we are firefighters, and will answere the call. (September, 2001)
Honor and Remembrance
Remember and honor the sacrifices of 09.11.01 and the continuing sacrifices that are being made today by those fire, law enforcement and emergency services workers, support personnel and civilians that worked the recovery efforts at Ground Zero in the weeks and months afterwards who are dying or are afflicted by the lingering effects of exposure at the site. Remember the surviving families of those lost, remember the firefighters; who they were and remember who we are, and what we do each and every day in the streets of America. May We Never Forget. Honor and Remembrance 343…
Six Detroit firefighters were injured during operations at a two alarm fire at a commercial taxpayer fire on the city’s east side. Initial reports indicate a roof collapse and subsequent compromise and further collapse occurred on the alpha side of operations with additional reports of an explosion preceding the collapse. Additional information provided by the Detroit Fire Department indicated the building structure had sustained some degree of damage from fire operations a few hours earlier and that during the suppression operations at 07:00 hours, while companies were operating, a facade collapse of the perimeter brick wall occured.
The brick facade collapse trapped a number of firefighters under the debris pile requiring extrication and removal. Published report indicate that the following Detroit Firefighters were injured as a result of the collapsing facade wall;
• Lt. Gerald Rutkowski, 46; 23 years with department
• Shane Raxter, 32; 9 years with department.
• Brian Baulch, 31; 9 years with department.
• Jeron Whitehorn 30; 8 years with department.
• Eric Jurmo, 31; 11 years with department.
• Brendan Milewski, 31; 11 years with department
It appears the two story brick structure located at the corner block had commercial occupancies on the number one floor, with the second floor boarded up, evidenced by the coverings over the windows.
The facade collapse of the alpha side in the predominate location of perimeter windows is typically the least stable of areas in buildings of type III ordinary construction. Lacking any significant mass and increased wythe, non-bearing walls have less mass and require stability of the adjacent floor systems and load bearing lintels and beams to maintain structural stability and integrity. Gravity affects unstable brick veneer and in-fill walls greatly as does other imposed loads, hose and master streams impacts. We’ll post more building construction insights and safety aides to increase your operational awareness on these type of building structures.
Here are the links to the lastest information forthcoming;
A Tale of Two House Fires and their operational outcomes. This video from a newscast that Dave Statter did in 2007 provides some basic insights into operational factors related to Conventional Construction and Engineered Structural Systems (ESS).
If you haven’t had the opportunity or time to log onto the Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) University Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions. This online firefighter training course is the result of a research partnership among UL, the Chicago Fire Department, IAFC, and Michigan State University, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This is a self-guided course which focuses on the structural stability of engineered lumber under fire conditions and provides the latest in test data and insights.
UL Assembly Testing
Also check out State Farm Insurance’s Fire Training web resource SFSafeTraining.com for informational training offerings to enhance your skill set in the areas of Building Construction and Operational Safety.
Building Performance Awareness on Lightweight Construction during Fires is another exceptional linf to spend some time at the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) site.
In a partnership with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) developed a comprehensive Web-based educational program to help the fire service learn more about lightweight construction components and the performance of these building materials during fires to create a safer operational environment for firefighters. These components include trusses, glue laminated beams, I-joists, structural composite lumber, structural insulated panels, and wood structural panels that are replacing dimensional lumber in many applications.
Included in this program is FireFrame, an interactive tool on building construction for the fire service. It was developed with the assistance of several state and local fire training systems. Access the AF&PA Training site HERE
As a Company or Command Officer are you aware and take into consideration operational factors that are unique to tactical assignments within occupancies and building structures of conventional construction versus those that have engineered structural assemblies and systems?
Each has defined time spans for safe operational deployment with mission crucial situational awareness considerations.
Are you aware of them and how they affect the overall integrity and safety of operating companies?
Today is June 17th, to many of you, today is unlike so many other days. Whether it’s going on or off-shift, going to your “day” job; common rituals and activities define our day and are a part of your typical schedule or routine, activities, occupation, trade, leisure or everyday jobs. On any given day, we expect some fairly simple and basic things; Simple and basic from a firefighter’s perspective that is. Let’s clearly put this discussion into firefighter terms and context. We hope that we have a busy day, for the most part; that the alarms and incidents allow us to practice our skills and do what we do best. Deep down inside, we also hope that we have a good “job” come in that allows us to work the job, to fight the fight and put into practice all that we train and prepare to do, we the bell hits and we are called to duty.
Not that we hope or wish undue miss-fortune, distress or sorrow on anyone, but, IF a fire is going to happen, let it happen on my shift, my tour or while I’m at the firehouse and able to make the first-due. It’s a pretty fundamental hierarchy of need, and it’s what makes us tick at times. Because of who we are and what we do. Right?
But today is much more than that. June 17th marks the anniversary of two significant fire service incidents that resonate with the values, doctrine and philosophy that define the principles and tradition of the Fire Service.
Both of these incidents resulted in firefighter line-of-duty deaths at seemingly routine fires, in relatively ordinary structures and occupancies, each with unusual building construction features and conditions that would contribute to the adverse circumstances of the incident operations, and ultimately contribute to the LODD events.
Hotel Vendome Fire-1972
On June 17th, 1972, a typical routine day was unfolding for the Jakes in the Boston Fire Department. At 14:35 hours, Box 1571 was received at Boston Fire Alarm Office. It would be the first of four alarms required to extinguish an intense fire at the former Hotel Vendome on Commonwealth Avenue at Dartmouth Street, City of Boston, Massachusetts. It took nearly three hours to contain the blaze. The four alarm fire required a compliment of 16 engine companies, 5 ladder companies, 2 aerial towers and 1 heavy rescue company, with all companies operating with a full complement of personnel staffing.
Following extensive and strenuous suppression operations, the BFD commenced routine overhaul operation. Then, at 17:28 hours, without warning, all five floors of a 40 by 45 foot section southeast corner of the building collapsed, burying a ladder truck and 17 firefighters beneath a two-story pile of brick, mortar, plaster, wood and debris.
More than any other event in the three hundred year history of the Boston Fire Department, the Vendome tragedy exemplifies the risk intrinsic to the firefighting profession and the accompanying courage required in the performance of duty. Nine firefighters were killed on that day, eight more injured; eight women widowed, twenty-five children lost their fathers; a shocked city mourned before the sympathetic eyes of the entire nation.
The Hotel Vendome fire and the Nine Line-of-duty deaths, two Company Officers and seven firefighters
• Lieutenant THOMAS J. CARROLL, E-32.
• Lieutenant JOHN E. HANBURY, JR., L-13.
• Firefighter THOMAS W. BECKWITH, E-32.
• Firefighter JOSEPH E. BOUCHER, JR., E-22.
• Firefighter CHARLES E. DOLAN, L-13.
• Firefighter JOHN E. JAMESON, E-22.
• Firefighter RICHARD B. MAGEE, E-33.
• Firefighter PAUL J. MURPHY, E-32.
• Firefighter JOSEPH P. SANIUK, L-13.
Built in 1871 and massively expanded in 1881, the Hotel Vendome was a luxury hotel located in Boston’s Back Bay, just north of Copley Square. During the 1960s, the Vendome suffered four small fires. In 1971, the year of the original building’s centennial, the Vendome was purchased. The new owners opened a restaurant called Cafe Vendome on the first floor, and began renovating the remaining hotel into condominiums and a shopping mall.
Although the cause of the original fire was not known, the subsequent collapse was attributed to the failure of an overloaded seven-inch steel column whose support had been weakened when a new duct had been cut beneath it, exacerbated by the extra weight of water used to fight the fire on the upper floors.
References and Documents
• Boston Fire Department, HERE
• Vendome, Wikipedia, HERE
• Building Photos and the Firefighter’s Memorial, HERE
• Gendisasters, Historical Perspective, HERE
• Boston Globe, HERE
• Boston FD Ladder 15, HERE
FDNY Father’s Day Fire-2001
The relative calm of a quiet Sunday, Father’s Day, June 17th , 2001 was broken at 14:19 hours with a phone call to the FDNY Queens Central Office reporting a fire at 12-22 Astoria Blvd, in the Astoria Section of Queens, New York. For almost 80 years, the Long Island General Supply store has been a fixture in the Long Island City section of Queens serving local contractors and residents with all of their hardware needs. Unfortunately, that included propane tanks and other flammable liquids.
Two structures were involved in this incident. Both buildings were interconnected on the first floors as well as the cellars.
• Both structures were built prior to 1930 of ordinary (Type III) construction, and were two stories in height, each with a full cellar.
• Building 1 measured 2035 square feet and was triangular in shape.
• Building 2 measured 1102 square feet and was rectangular in shape.
• Building 1 and Building 2 shared a common or party wall and were interconnected on the first floor and the cellar.Building to building access in the cellar was through a fire door. The fire door was blocked open to allow free movement between the cellars which were used for storage. The hardware stored occupied the first floor and cellars of both buildings. Building 1 had two apartments on the second floor.
Building 2 had an office and storage space on the second floor. Note: A third uninvolved building was attached to the west side of Building 2. The flat roof system sheathing consisted of 5/8-inch plywood covered by felt paper and rubber roof membrane. The foundation was constructed out of stone and mortar. The support system was a combination of steel masonry posts/lolly columns and wooden support beams.
FDNY Units arrived within 5 minutes of the dispatch and gave the signal for a working fire. Fire fighters were making good progress but at 14:48 hours something went terribly wrong. Witnesses on the scene report hearing a small explosion followed by a huge blast. The shock wave from the blast blew d
own every fire fighter on the street and knocked down the exposure 1 wall onto the sidewalk, right on top of fire fighters venting the building.
As members started sifting through the rubble, the chief ordered a second alarm followed almost immediately by a fourth alarm when a radio transmission was received from FF Brian Fahey from Rescue 4. He was in the basement under tons of collapsed material.
“I’m trapped in the basement by the stairs. Come get me.” This was a battle cry to everyone on the scene. Every capable member frantically began removing debris to try and get to Brian and the others. The chief ordered more help. Numerous special calls were made.
There were 144 pieces of apparatus at the scene: 46 engines, 33 ladders, 16 battalion chiefs, 2 deputy chiefs, all 5 rescues, 7 squads, and many more. In fact, with the exception of the fire boats, the JFK hose wagon, the Decon unit, and the thawing units, every type of special unit was at the scene.
Even with the vast resources of the Department, the task took several hours. The members that were on the sidewalk were quickly recovered.
• Fire fighters Harry Ford (R4) and John Downing (L163) were removed in traumatic arrest and brought to Elmhurst Hospital were they succumbed from their injuries.
• Back at the scene members still were trying to get to Brian while others were trying to put out the smoky fire. The battle went through the afternoon and into the evening.
• The fire was being fueled by some of the flammables in the building.
• After about four hours they finally reached the basement, but again, it was too late. FDNY Firefighter Brian died in the Line-of-duty.
Subsequent investigations revealed that two local kids were in the rear yard of the building when unbeknownst to them they knocked over a can of gasoline. The gasoline ran under the rear door, into the basement eventually finding an ignition source in the form of the water heater.
When the water heater kicked in, it ignited the gasoline. As fire fighters began working in the building the fire caused the explosion of a large propane tank illegally stored in the basement. The resulting blast leveled the building and caused what will be forever known as the worst Father’s Day in FDNY’s history. (Excerpt of the event description published in www.fdnewyork.com).
The supreme sacrifice was made that day by;
• FDNY Firefighter Harry S. Ford, Rescue Co.4
• FDNY Firefighter Brain D. Fahey, Rescue Co. 4
• FDNY Firefighter John Downing, Ladder Co. 163
Take the time to read the NIOSH Report, and learn the lessons from that event
NIOSH Report F2001-23, HERE
Steve Spak, Photos, HERE
The Late, FDNY Firefighter Andy Fredrick’s Account, HERE
Online Service Accounts and Coverage, HERE
Buffalo, NY FD North Division Street Explosion, HERE, HERE and HERE
As BFD firefighters arrived at the scene of a reported propane leak in a three-story radiator warehouse (Type III ordinary construction), a massive explosion occurred, killing five firefighters instantly and injuring nine others, three of them critically. The force of the blast blew BFD Ladder 5’s tiller aerial 35 feet across the street into the front yard of a dwelling. BFD Engine 1’s pumper was also blown across the street with the captain and driver pinned in the cab with burning debris all around them. Engine 32’s engine was blown up against a warehouse across a side street and covered with rubble.
Two civilians were also killed and another 60 to 70 were injured. While operating at the rescue effort, another 19 firefighters were injured. The blast and ensuing fire ignited 14 residences and damaged as many as 130 buildings over a four block area. The explosion occurred when an employee was moving an illegal 500-lb. propane tank with a forklift truck and dropped it, breaking off a valve. The gas leaked out, found an ignition source, and the explosion occurred. Killed in the line of duty were all assigned to Buffalo FD Ladder Company 5; F/F Michael Austin, F/F Michael Catanzaro, F/F Matthew Colpoys, F/F James Lickfield and F/F Anthony Waszkielewicz.
Taking it to the Streets
The adage that the fire service has more recently adopted states; “There are no “routine calls”; referring to the safety consciousness that all responding companies should endeavor to consider when responding to an incident, that all too often appears; upon our arrival to be routine in every sense of the word. Whether it’s an alarm system activation, a report of food on the stove, a report of a smoke detector alarming or a report of a gas odor or leak, we have a tendency to treat a lot of things as equal and very routine based upon the periodicity and frequency of the alarm type and the typical, inconsequential nature of the incident outcome or the commonality of the fire and suppression efforts that routinely are employed by our operating companies.
We seem to do a lot of things at times out of common practice and repetition, you know; “We’ve always done it that way…” syndrome. There’s a resonating theme that is making its way around the fire service dealing with an apparent “culture of extinguishment” and the suggested and inaccurately described “diametrically opposing” fire service safety culture promoted by those on the “Dark Side”
The daily experience, expectations, our comfort zone;
• We’re pretty good at what we do-Regularly….
• We develop profound habits and methods…
• We treat a lot of things as equal in many respects…
• We’ve grown accustomed to certain operational modes..
• We don’t really think anything is going to happen to us, certainly nothing so adverse that I don’t go home after the call.
Nothing is going to happen to YOU; it happens to someone else…. BUT to everyone else-YOU are the other Guy!
On any give day, at any give alarm, the dynamics around us at times may be in or out of our direct control. We may not be able to see what the cards have in store for us, BUT we must ensure we use every fragment of training, fortitude, knowledge, skills, courage, bravery, insights, luck and sometimes (other divine) intervention to get us through.
Take the time today or this evening to visit and download selective reports from the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. The lessons learned from these reports and the important recommendations that are written as a direct result of the supreme sacrifices made by our brother and sister firefighters that died in the line of duty speaks volumes. In reality, the words written in these reports are the words from our fallen, they convey the messages to correct deficiencies, close gaps and increase and enhance our operations, training, education, administration, management, supervision, resources, equipment, protocols, preparedness, perspectives, culture and values.
When you look over these events over the years, it doesn’t take long to identify that many LODD events share similarities, and that specific incident events, deficiencies, outcomes and recommendations are identical in every way, except for the fire department name and geographical location. In other words, we have History Repeating Events (HRE). Events that resonate with common issues, apparent and contributing causes and operational factors that share legacy issues that the fire service fails to identify, relate to and implement. In other words, we fail a times to learn from the past, or we make a deliberate chose to ignore those lessons due to other internal or external influences, pressures, authority, beliefs, values or viewpoints. We make choices and we determine our direction, path and destiny.
History repeating itself is nothing new to society, it is apparent and self revealing in much of written history and recorded legacies, and as defined by a popular quote states; “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
An interesting series of quotes from noted historian Gerda Lerner states the following; “What we do about history matters. The often repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth in it. But what are ‘the lessons of history’? The very attempt at definition furnishes ground for new conflicts. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way. Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are a constantly shifting process. There are no certainties to be found in the past.”
She goes on to state; “We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their time and how they solved their problems. We can learn by analogy, not by example, for our circumstances will always be different than theirs were. The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events.”
We must learn for the part, so that we limit or eradicate the opportunity for History Repeating events aligning themselves again and providing emergency incident circumstances to lead to another line-of-duty death, injuries or large loss incident.
History Repeating Events share may common and familiar themes. Research exemplifies the following shared commonality causes related to History Repeating Events;
• A lack of pre-incident planning
• Ineffective or lack of risk management
• No Incident action plan• Free-lancing
• Inadequate Training/Skills• Faulted Strategies and/or Tactics
• Deficient Resources/staffing
• Lack of Accountability• Insufficient Fire Suppression versus Fire Loading affect• Ineffective or non-existent Supervisory oversight
• No effective span of control / management
• Not understanding Building Construction
• Not understanding Structural Assemblies and Systems
• Not understanding Construction & Occupancy factors• Not understanding Engineered Building Systems and relationship to Tactics
• Lacking understanding of Fire Behavior and Fire Dynamics
• Ineffective Company level supervision
• Lack of Situational Awareness• Command Dysfunction
• Failure to implement periodic in-situ reassessments
Think about your actions, think about what you can do to make a difference or to alter or change the course of a situation. We sometimes have a greater hand in destiny and how the cards are dealt than we think. Take a look and discuss the HRE causal factors listed above, share these with you officers, with you company level personnel or the department as a whole. Pose the question, “What do these mean to you?” See what the different feedback might illustrate and how they may be viewed from a different set of perspectives, generations or rank and assignments.
Safety Considerations for Operations involving Ordinary or Heavy Timber Type Construction.
In support of the two (2) incident events discussed in this article related to the Hotel Vendome and the Astoria Queens Hardware Store Explosion. Both of these structures were Type III, Ordinary Construction. This is a good opportunity for you to introduce yourself to or refresh yourself on the Safety Considerations for Operations involving Ordinary or Heavy Ti…
A comprehensive power point program is available for download from the Near Miss Reporting System web site, HERE
An accompanying narrative report and its alignment with a Near Miss Report related to a type III occupancy and incident response and close call support the power point presentation, HERE
Don’t forget, the Near Miss Reporting System, HERE, has exemplary resources, case studies, close calls and lessons to be learned and institutionalized. The same is true about the resources at the NFFF Everyone Goes Home Program, HERE and the IAFC Fire/EMS Safety week web site HERE.
Take the time to learn something about Ordinary or Heavy Timber Type Construction. As I continue to advocate; Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety. No more History Repeating Events!
Here’s a closing quote from the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy;“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
Be safe, have a great tour or stay at the firehouse today or this evening.
Orginally published during 2009 Safety Health and Survival Week.
Six years ago on March 13, 2004, two career firefighters with the City of Pittsburg (PA) Fire Bureau were fatally injured during a structural collapse of a bell tower at the Ebenezer Baptist Church fire. Battalion Chief Charles G. Brace (55 years of age) was acting as the Incident Safety Officer and Master Firefighter Richard A. Stefanakis (51 years of age) was performing overhaul, extinguishing remaining hot spots inside the church vestibule when the bell tower collapsed on them and numerous other fire fighters. Twenty-three fire fighters injured during the collapse were transported to area hospitals. A backdraft occurred earlier in the incident that injured an additional six fire fighters. The collapse victims were extricated from the church vestibule several hours after the collapse. The victims were pronounced dead at the scene. A total of twenty-nine other fire fighters were injured during the incident.
The church was a National Historic Landmark that was built in 1875. The building was still in use as a house of worship and school at the time of this incident. The exterior construction was masonry with several courses of red brick covered with stone. The building foundation was approximately 120 x 70 feet and approximately 50 feet to the roof line. The pitched roof was covered with asphalt shingles and supported by heavy timber roof trusses. The stone façade exterior of the structure was added during a renovation in the 1930s. This renovation also included the addition of a 115 foot bell tower capped with four spires. The bell tower was not a stand-alone structure, but was supported by steel I-beams with a brick and stone façade that was connected into the southwest corner of the original church.
The church had four levels. The entry level or ‘Cay Cee Level’ had the main assembly area with a performance stage, a kitchen and two bathrooms. The top floor was the ‘Sanctuary Level’ which contained the pulpit, choir section, baptismal pool, and balcony. The basement or ‘King Level’ had several meeting rooms, three bathrooms, a computer room, a boiler room, and an electrical room. (Note: An unfinished sub-basement was also present with three rooms).
The church had an attached annex added to the eastern side of the original structure in 1994. The annex was approximately 60 x 45 feet in size and the three story addition contained an elevator that served the entire church. The annex was attached to the original structure via hallways on each floor with a central elevator shaft. On the first floor was a chapel, five offices and a bathroom. The second floor had nine meeting rooms. The third floor contained a fellowship hall, a kitchen and bathrooms.
The fire occurred on a Saturday morning as parishioners were preparing to have breakfast. The church staff noticed smoke coming from an electrical outlet. When the pastor went to investigate in the electrical room located in the basement, he found heavy smoke. Building occupants called 911 and reported an electrical fire. Building occupants had evacuated the church prior to the arrival of fire fighters.
The origin of the fire was in the basement ceiling located in the front southwest corner of the church within an electrical/computer room. The actual ignition mechanism of the fire was unable to be determined. The fire spread horizontally through the concealed space between the basement ceiling and first floor. The fire then spread vertically via concealed wall spaces to the structural members, framing and interior furnishings.
There were approximately 70 fire fighters and 13 apparatus on scene during the 4th alarm response when the bell tower collapse occurred at 1213 hours.
At 0845 hours, an alarm was received for an electrical fire at a church. The 1st Alarm assignment included three engine companies, a truck company, another engine company to serve as the RIT team, an acting Battalion Chief as the IC, a Battalion Chief as the Incident Safety Officer (ISO), a Mobile Air Truck used to fill SCBA air tanks and a Safety Unit that maintains command status and fire fighter accountability boards.
Engine 4 (E4) was the first company on scene at 0850 hours. The apparatus was positioned in front of the church and the crew reported seeing light to moderate smoke inside the church. The church pastor told the crew that the building had been evacuated and that the smoke was coming from the electrical room in the basement.
The crew advanced a 1 ¾-in hand line through the front southeast entrance and down the stairs to the basement. Once in the basement, the crew was met with intense heat and thick black smoke. The crew could not see any flame but heard crackling sounds that they localized to the ceiling above them.
The crew then attempted to open the ceiling, but heavy plaster and lathe construction hindered their efforts.
Truck 4 (T4) also arrived on scene at 0850 hours and positioned the apparatus in the parking lot. The crew was preparing to raise the aerial ladder to the roof and begin ventilation when the IC ordered them to open the floor on the first floor above the fire.
Once on the first floor, the crew started using a chainsaw and immediately began to experience problems with the saw stalling. (Note: It is believed that the interior smoke conditions and a lack of oxygen caused the gas-powered saw to stall out rendering it unusable.)
The crew switched to axes and started chopping the floor. The E4 crew could hear the axe strikes above them from the basement below.
Engine 5 (E5) arrived on scene at 0851 hours and established water supply to E4. The crew advanced another 1 ¾-in hand line to the basement to back up the E4 crew.
Engine 10 (E10) arrived on scene at 0852 hours and established a second water supply. The crew advanced a 1 ¾-in hand line to the first floor to back up the T4 crew and assisted in opening the floor.
Both crews experienced heavy smoke conditions upon entering the church.
A 2nd Alarm was requested for additional manpower by Victim #1 at 0900 hours and the assignment included two engine companies, a truck company and the Deputy Chief. Prior to the 2nd Alarm being dispatched, the Deputy Chief was already en-route and upon arrival at 0900 hours conducted a size-up and was briefed by Officers. The Deputy Chief assumed IC while the Acting Battalion Chief became the Operations Chief and Chief Brace became the ISO.
A 3rd Alarm was requested by the IC at 0911 hours and the assignment included three additional engine companies and the Assistant Chief. Since the exact seat of the fire was still not located, the IC made a special request for Engine 29 (E29) to bring a thermal imaging camera (TIC) to the scene. (Note: At the time of this incident, the department had only one TIC, a unit that was on loan from the manufacturer.)
At 0919 hours (approximately 30 minutes into the incident), the IC called for an evacuation and an accountability check based on the deteriorating interior conditions.
All firefighters on the interior attack crews reported outside to the Safety Unit for the accountability check. After all personnel were accounted for at 0925 hours, the IC continued the interior attack with crews located in the basement and on the first floor.
The E12 Officer reported to command that they had located the fire in the basement prior to the accountability check; they were ordered to continue fire suppression with E4 acting as back-up.
Both crews re-entered the basement and began to extinguish the fire.
The E12 Officer reported that soon after they began to spray water, the basement went “black, totally black, like the fire left.” He immediately yelled for everyone to back out. Some fire fighters reported hearing a “big, loud whistle” followed by a bang.
At 0928 hours, a major backdraft occurred that injured six fire fighters. The E4 Officer who was standing at the top of the stairwell was blown out of the building into the street by the force of the backdraft. The E4 Officer suffered bruises and facial burns. The E12 crew in the basement was beginning to back out when roaring fire rolled over top of them knocking them down.
They quickly climbed the steps and exited the church with their bunker gear smoldering. The E12 Officer received burns on his back, hands and face; an E12 fire fighter received hand and facial burns and another E12 fire fighter received facial burns.
The E11 Officer and E11 fire fighter were venting windows from a ground ladder against the wall on the western exterior when they saw that smoke was puffing in and out of the windows. They heard a load roar and started to run, but the force of the backdraft blew them across the street.
Fire fighters immediately began administering first aid to the injured and the IC ordered an evacuation and accountability check. The accountability check was quickly conducted by the Safety Unit and all fire fighters were accounted for by 0929 hours. Five of the injured fire fighters were transported by ambulance to a metropolitan trauma/burn center.
Fire fighters from Truck 14 did not reenter the church but were ordered to set up a positive pressure ventilation fan in a window in the front of the church. (Note: This task was not completed prior to the backdraft.)
A 4th Alarm was requested by the IC at 0931 hours and the assignment included two additional engine companies, the Chief, a Communications Officer, and another Battalion Chief as an additional ISO.
For the next several hours, both ISOs were working their sectors and updating the IC with progress reports.
At 0948 hours (approximately 1 hour into the incident), heavy smoke was reported throughout the church and the IC changed tactics to a defensive attack and removed all personnel from the building. Numerous master steam appliances and hand lines were operated from all exposure sides in an attempt to extinguish the fire in the church and protect the annex.
At 0949 hours, fire was present throughout the western side of the church.
At 1007 hours, heavy black smoke was observed in the eastern side and at 1009 hours, fire was breaking through the roof.
At 1031 hours, there was heavy fire throughout the church
At 1048 hours (approximately 2 hours into the incident), the roof was completely burnt away and companies were continuing with “surround and drown” operations.
At 1148 hours, the IC ordered all exterior hose streams shut down. One ISO left the immediate scene as instructed by the Assistant Chief to impound the fire gear of the fire fighters injured in the back draft. The IC met with company officers and discussed overhaul operations to extinguish the remaining pockets of fire.
At 1213 hours (approximately 3½ hours into the incident), the church bell tower collapsed sending large chunks of stone, brick, heavy wooden timbers, and other debris crashing through the vestibule trapping both victims under debris.
Other fire fighters operating in the vestibule recall that heavy timbers and wood boards broke through the ceiling and then the entire ceiling came down. Several fire fighters reported narrowly escaping from the collapse. Fire fighters standing outside of the church were showered with falling debris that injured numerous fire fighters.
The collapse caused some of the heavy timber roof trusses to fail. Falling roof trusses struck several fire fighters and one fire fighter became trapped. The fire fighters made an urgent radio transmission for assistance and requested rescue equipment. Their call went unanswered due to command being incapacitated.
At 1214 hours, an arson Officer radioed to dispatch that a major collapse had occurred and requested a 5th alarm for additional manpower to assist with rescue efforts. The 5th alarm assignment included three additional engines and two additional truck companies. Fire fighters immediately began administering first aid and transporting injured fire fighters to ambulances. Upon hearing of the collapse over the radio, the other ISO returned to the immediate scene from impounding the fire gear from injured fire fighters.
The ISO, assisted by an officer of the Safety Unit, conducted an accountability check a short time after the collapse and verified that Victim #1 and Victim #2 were missing. Twenty three fire fighters were injured during the collapse and transported to area hospitals.
According to the NIOSH Report F2004-017(HERE) investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should perform the following;
Ensure that an assessment of the stability and safety of the structure is conducted before entering fire and water-damaged structures for overhaul operations
Establish and monitor a collapse zone to ensure that no activities take place within this area during overhaul operations
Ensure that the Incident Commander establishes the command post outside of the collapse zone
Train fire fighters to recognize conditions that forewarn of a backdraft
Ensure consistent use of personal alert safety system (PASS) devices during overhaul operations
Ensure that pre-incident planning is performed on structures containing unique features such as bell towers
Ensure that Incident Commanders conduct a risk-versus-gain analysis prior to committing fire fighters to an interior operation, and continue to assess risk-versus-gain throughout the operation including overhaul
Develop standard operating guidelines (SOGs) to assign additional safety officers during complex incidents
Provide interior attack crews with thermal imaging cameras
Municipalities should enforce current building codes to improve the safety of occupants and fire fighters
Take the time to remember a similar incident ( History Repeating Event-HRE). The Hotel Vendome fire that occurred in the City of Boston (MA) on June 17, 1972 resulted in nine (9) firefighter fatalities. At 2:35 PM on Saturday, June 17, 1972, Box 1571 was received at Boston Fire Alarm for the Hotel Vendome on Commonwealth Avenue at Dartmouth Street in the Back Bay. It took nearly three hours to stop the 4-alarm blaze.
During overhauling operations the southeast section of the building unexpectedly collapsed killing 9 of Boston’s bravest: Lieutenant Thomas J. Carroll (Engine 32), Lieutenant John E. Hanbury (Ladder 13), Firefighter Richard B. Magee (Engine 33), Firefighter Joseph F. Boucher (Engine 22), Firefighter Paul J. Murphy (Engine 32), Firefighter John E. Jameson (Engine 22), Firefighter Charles E. Dolan (Ladder 13), Firefighter Joseph P. Saniuk (Ladder 13) and Firefighter Thomas W. Beckwith (Engine 32); and injuring 8 more. This fire was the worst tragedy in the history of the Boston Fire Department and one of the most deadly fires in the history of U.S. firefighting.
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