Analysis of Firetruck Crashes and Associated Firefighter Injuries in the United States
New study came out last month in the Annals of Advances in Automotive Medicine entitled “Analysis of firetruck crashes and associated firefighter injuries in the United States.” The authors state that there are some 30,000 firetruck crashes each year and that it represents the second leading cause of death of on-duty firefighters. Their research indicates that much more emphasis is needed on improving seat belt use.
Take the time to read the report. Additionally, a timely video production on Company Officer Responsibilities, Shared responsibilities for Apparatus Engineer/Driver and the entire crew related to seat belt use, response mode, defensive driving and the need to arrive to make a difference…
Approximately 500 firefighters are involved in fatal firetruck crashes each year and 1 out of 100 of these occupants dies as a result of the crash. Despite changes in regulations that govern fire vehicle safety, the average fatality rate per year has remained relatively stagnant. Rollovers are the most common crashes that result in firefighter deaths (66% of all fatal firetruck crashes), and a majority of those fatalities were unrestrained occupants. Redesigning and improving firetruck restraint systems could reduce the number of injuries and fatalities that occur in firetruck crashes, but the restraint systems will only be effective if firefighters buckle them in while riding in the apparatus
Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for on-duty firefighters. Firetruck crashes, occurring at a rate of approximately 30,000 crashes per year, have potentially dire consequences for the vehicle occupants and for the community if the firetruck was traveling to provide emergency services. Data from the United States Fire Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that firefighters neglect to buckle their seatbelts while traveling in a fire apparatus, thus putting themselves at a high risk for injuries if the truck crashes, especially in rollover crashes. Despite national regulations and departmental guidelines aiming to improve safety on fire apparatuses, belt use among firefighters remains dangerously low. The results from this study indicate that further steps need to be taken to improve belt use. One promising solution would be to redesign firetruck seatbelts to improve the ease of buckling and to accommodate wider variations in firefighter sizes.
Each year, an average of 100 firefighters die and 100,000 firefighters are injured in the line of duty from a variety of causes including, but not limited to, extreme physical exertion, underlying medical conditions, and motor vehicle crashes (United States Fire Administration, 2011). The United States Fire Administration (USFA), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, cites motor vehicle crashes as the cause of death for between 20–25% of the annual line-of-duty fatalities. Motor vehicle crashes are the second highest cause of death for firefighters. The leading cause of death is stress and overexertion which accounts for approximately 50% of the fatalities. Other significant causes of death in the dataset include: caught/trapped (10%), fall (5%), collapse (3%) and other (7%) (United States Fire Administration, n.d.). Firetruck crashes, although rare in comparison to non-emergency vehicle crashes, tend to have grave consequences for firetruck occupants and for occupants in other vehicles involved in the crash. Despite revising national standards to improve firetruck safety and reduce firefighters’ risk of injury and fatality, the annual injury and fatality rate has remained essentially unchanged over the past decade.
The USFA has openly prioritized reducing firefighter risk as its number one goal (United States Fire Administration, 2010), intending to accomplish it through injury prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce the total number of line-of-duty injuries and fatalities.
This paper investigates the characteristics of fatal firetruck crashes and identifies some underlying issues that may lead to increased firefighter injury and fatality risk while riding in a fire emergency vehicle. The data presented comes from two different national databases with varying degrees of crash-level and occupant-level information.
Analysis of Firetruck Crashes and Associated Firefighter Injuries in the United States REPORT HERE
Raleigh Rollover: This video was shot by the Seattle Fire Department and created by Nuvelocity for training, educational and safety purposes for the annual Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indiana. We edited their footage into a dramatic and powerful story. http://www.seattle.gov/fire/ http://www.fdic.com/index.html
From the NFFF/EGH program: (HERE)
On Saturday, November 17, members of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Memorial Weekend Staff attended the Fireman’s Ball to present the Everyone Goes Home® Seal of Excellence to the department for its commitment to promoting firefighter safety.
“Under Chief John McGrath’s leadership, the Raleigh Fire Department has been a champion of firefighter safety and successfully has implemented the themes and concepts of the Life Safety Initiatives,” said Victor Stagnaro, director of fire service programs for the Foundation. “The department has focused on excellent customer service, professional service delivery and operational readiness through training and discipline. These characteristics epitomize the Seal of Excellence,” he explained.
A single incident reinforced the importance of fully embracing the tenets of the Initiatives. On July 10, 2009, Ladder 4, a tractor drawn aerial ladder, was involved in a single vehicle accident while responding to a report of a structure fire. Fortunately, there were no fatalities and all the members riding on the apparatus returned to work. Afterward, Chief McGrath and the members of the Raleigh Fire department committed themselves to preventing this type of incident from happening again.
The department sought out the best national training models to provide to its members. After researching the best practices related to apparatus driving, they joined forces with the Seattle Fire Department which was working on a comprehensive training program related to driving tractor-drawn fire apparatus. The result was an extensive training program for the apparatus drivers of the Raleigh Fire department and greater levels of protection and accountability within the organization. They also developed key points to remind all fire service members of the following:
- Safety is First
- Training is Essential
- Wear Your Seatbelt
- Control all Intersections
- Be In Control of Your Apparatus
- You Must Arrive to Make a Difference
The Raleigh Fire Department’s outreach did not stop there. In conjunction with the Seattle Fire Department, Raleigh chose to share the lessons learned and the heartfelt stories of the firefighters that were involved in the crash by developing a training video. Their willingness to openly discuss this close call took courage. But the lessons learned and the desire to prevent others from experiencing a similar event, perhaps one with a more tragic ending, took precedence. The Raleigh fire department pressed forward believing that the safety of firefighters is a crucial element in the culture of firefighting.
(Play from your Desktop – No Internet Connection Required)
» VFIS Online Training Center: Seat Belt Safety
”You don’t need a last name for Herbie. Everybody knew Herbie”. A beloved firefighter, Fire officer, father and husband died in the line of duty on Friday November 2, in the City of Chicago protecting the citizens of his city working with the companies assigned to the structure fire alarm.
Chicago Captain Herbert Johnson, 54, suffered second- and third-degree burns during fire suppression operations being conducted in the attic of the residential house at 2315 West 50th Place, according to Chicago FD officials and published media reports. The 32-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department died Friday night after he and another firefighter were injured in a blaze that spread quickly through the 2-1/2 story wood frame house. A second firefighter, FF Brian Woods was also injured and was reported in good condition at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, according to a department spokeswoman, and was subsequently released. Chicago fire investigators are considering the possibility that a malfunctioning water heater sparked the fire that killed Capt. Herbert Johnson, a Fire Department spokesman said Saturday.
- See CommandSafety.com for a complete accounting of the event, HERE
Family of fallen firefighter: ‘A hero for our city’ from the Chicago Tribune, HERE
Captain Johnson, was promoted from lieutenant this summer and was assigned to Engine Co. 123 in Back of the Yards Section of Chicago for the night tour but normally worked all around the City of Chicago.
The following exerpt from the Chicago Tribune helps define the type of firefighter Capt. Johnson was:
Johnson’s influence on everyone he met was visible Saturday, with shrines at the site of his death and trees in his family’s Morgan Park neighborhood decorated with purple and black bows.
A 32-year veteran of the department, Johnson volunteered in 2001 to help with rescue efforts in New York after the 9/11 attacks. As a lieutenant in 2007, he received a Medal of Honor for outstanding bravery or heroism, the state’s highest accolade for firefighters — the result, his family said, of helping rescue children the year before from a burning building on the South Side.
Friends and family remembered him mostly for his jovial personality and tender heart, a burly man with a beaming smile who once took a sewing class so he could make a First Communion dress for his daughter.
Johnson and his sister, Julie, even went to clown school together, said their brother John Johnson, a Chicago police officer. That sister, a former police officer who is now a nurse, celebrated her birthday Friday, the day of Johnson’s death, family members said.
Their father worked for the city in the Streets and Sanitation Department, John Johnson said, and their grandfathers were Chicago police officers.
The eldest of eight children, Johnson always knew he wanted to be a firefighter, said his family members, many of whom are also in public service.
“He lived for it,” brother-in-law McMahon, said.
“He died for it,” John Johnson added.
From the Chicago Tribune (HERE);
Just like every little boy that’s grown up in the last 20 years wanted to be Michael Jordan or Brian Urlacher, every firefighter that worked with him wanted to be Herbie,” said Tim O’Brien, a spokesman with Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2. “You aspired to be more like him in every way of life.”
Colleagues said Johnson spent the last several years working as an instructor at the Fire Academy. Generous and kind, he never missed a Fire Department fundraising event, they said. His helpful nature also extended beyond the firehouse, friends said, through coaching youth sports and volunteering at his church parish.
He always had a funny story and often left fellow firefighters in stitches, sometimes through his own distinctive belly laugh, colleagues said.
From The Chicago Sun-Times (HERE):
“He was always a hero to us and now he’s a hero for our city,” McMahon said. “Herbie never wanted glory or notoriety. Instead, all he wanted was to make Chicago a safer place for other members of the city. So please, in Herbie’s honor, check your smoke detectors right now, give your kids a hug.”
Johnson was an easy man to know and love, said friend Tom Taff, who runs a camp for burn victims that Johnson helped support. The recently promoted captain personified joie de vivre, a man with a big laugh who drove fire engines in parades, cooked for charity — left an impression in the many places he offered his service.
Readings and Learnings
- Previous Chicago FD May-Day Near Miss from August 2011 on CommandSafety.com: Chicago Attic Fire: Firefighter Maydays, Four Injured UPDATED
- USFA Report: Attic Fires in Residential Buildings Report
- CommandSafety.com: Roof and Ceiling Collapses DCFD and Gary FD
- NIOSH: Career fire fighter dies after being trapped in a roof collapse during overhaul of a vacant/abandoned building – Michigan
- NIOSH: Career fire fighter dies and another is injured following structure collapse at a triple decker residential fire – Massachusetts
- NIOSH: Career fire fighter/paramedic dies from injuries following an unexpected ceiling collapse – California
- NIOSH: A Career lieutenant and a career fire fighter found unresponsive at a residential structure fire – Connecticut
- NIOSH: Residential fire claims the lives of two volunteer fire fighters and seriously injures an assistant chief – Missouri
- NIOSH: Structural collapse at residential fire claims lives of two volunteer fire chiefs and one career fire fighter – New Jersey
Additional Coverage and Links
- From Chicago WGNTV, HERE
- From the Chicago Tribune, HERE and HERE
- From the Chicago Sun Times, HERE
- Photo Gallery from the Sun-Times, HERE
- Photo Gallery from the Chicago Tribune, HERE
- Aerial Fireground Operations, Chicago ABC 7 News, HERE
- Google Maps; StreetView Images, HERE
- Chicago CBS, HERE
- 2007 Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial and Firefighting Medal of Honor Ceremony, HERE
- Remembering Capt. Herbie Johnson: “To Know Him, Was to Love Him” HERE
Family, friends gather to mourn fallen firefighter Herbert Johnson, Chicago Sun-Times Additional Video HERE
New Sensor System Tracks Firefighters Where GPS Fails
Firefighter Ray Hodgson hits the talk button on his walkie-talkie: “I have fire showing, possibility of a rescue on the third floor. Engine 35, initiate a rescue group. Also back him up with a hose line.”
A fire has been set in a three story building at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, where firefighters hone their skills and test equipment. In this case they’re testing a device they hope will save firefighters’ lives. Everyone taking part in the drill knows how difficult and dangerous it is to locate a missing firefighter in a smoky inferno.
“When you go into a burning building, you don’t really see anything. You can’t see your hand in front of your face; you’re going on instincts. It’s almost a surreal experience,” says Matt Leonard, a firefighter in the District of Columbia and a deputy chief in Prince George’s County, Md.
“We’ve had instances where we’ve lost firefighters in a building and had a hard time finding them. It’s very frustrating,” says Hodgeson, a firefighter for 44 years. He knows firsthand the sinking feeling of hearing the dreaded words that one of his colleagues is missing. That’s why this team of experienced firefighters is taking time to test out a new type of sensor that can track their whereabouts deep inside buildings, where standard GPS units often don’t work.
“This has been a need for a long time,” says Carol Politi, CEO of TRX Systems, the company developing the sensor. “Sept. 11 was widely publicized and there was not even an understanding of whether certain firefighters were actually in the buildings at the time of that tragedy.”
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), electrical engineer Politi and her team at TRX Systems are developing a portable device called the Sentrix Tracking Unit. It straps on like a belt and consists of a suite of sensors. “The sensors include accelerometers and gyroscopes. Those are sensors similar to what you have in your Wii for example–pressure sensors ranging sensors. It allows us to create a picture of what a user has done,” says Politi.
“The sensors monitor the movement of the user,” explains Ben Funk, vice president of Engineering at TRX. “So when the user moves forward or backwards, left or right, it determines how far a person moved in each direction.”
During the fire drill the sensors create a map of the building as the firefighters move through the smoke.
“Twenty-eight-nineteen, we have a mayday on the third floor from the rescue group,” Hodgson relays. “Initiate a search.”
During the demonstration, Hodgson assumes the role as incident commander as the others move through the burning building in teams of two. One of the firefighters, outfitted with a sensor, crawls through the smoke and purposely gets lost. The Sentrix Tracking Unit maps his location at every twist and turn, sending the data to a nearby base station–in this case, the incident commander’s laptop. The system can transmit via a variety of different radio-waves to accommodate different receivers.
“The tracker advises they’re on the back Delta Charlie quadrant in the back bedroom,” says Hodgson into his walkie-talkie.
In minutes the firefighter is located by a member of his team.
For the Full Article From the National Science Foundation Web Site, HERE All rights reserved
Credit: Brett Warneke, Kris S.J. Pister, Berkeley Sensor & Actuator Center, University of California, Berkeley
How much thought and efforts do you place on looking beyond the suggested “routiness” of your response operations? You know, the redundancy, routiness and frequency of typical calls you run, the types of fire you engage in and the manner in which your company interfaces with the balance of the alarm response when working a job or multiple alarm operation. We talk about nothing being routine, yet we have a pace, a rhythm and regularity, a consistency that is predicatable yet, uncertain; expected but when presented; off-guard.
When things go wrong, they can go wrong at an escalating rate that may at times not be apparent. Think about the issues that affect Errors, Omissions, Unknown or Unrecognized Building Profile or Construction, Wrong Tactics, Lack of Resources, Dysfunctional Command, Inadequate skills, High Risk-No Value, Situational Awareness failure, Command Compression, Tactical Entertainment…
From a company level, what are your concerns related to the routiness or regularity of your operations?
How would you relate to the fact that: “It’s NOT always business as usual”.
The complexities of the modern and evolving fireground demand an understanding of the building-occupancy relationships and the integral functionals related to;
- construction and systems,
- predictive occupacny performance
- occupancy profile risk
- fire dynamics and fire behavior,
- risk respect
- firefighting capabilities
- safety consciousness
- situational awareness
- tactical patience
- fluid and adaptive incident command management,
- diligent company level supervision and
- task level company competencies,
- exceptional individual skills
Without the sum of these; You are derelict and negligent and “not “everyone may be going home”.
How much knowledge and formal training have you had as a Commanding Officer or Company Officer on Building Construction?
Have any clue on the performance of Engineered Structural Systems….?
Are your strategic plans and tactics aligned with Occupancy Risk and projected Building Performance, company capabilities and the fire dynamics?
There’s a lot that can be gleaned from your surroundings on any given day. We sometimes take for granted the subtle changes that are happening all around us as we take care of business on our rounds, runs and calls. We tend to focus in on the immediacy of the events that are happening in front of us that demand our attention but fail to take a look around to pick up on information, data and insights that can help us on that next run or down the road in the future.
Take a look at the construction that might be going up in your areas. I’m certain you’re paying close attention to what’s happening in your first-due, but what about that third-due area, that neighboring jurisdiction or the mutual-aid area that you occasionally run in to? When you’re on that next EMS run or an investigation of an odor or alarm bells service call, take a few extra minutes to walk through the occupancy. Conduct your own mini company level pre-plan.
Look at the layout, features, access and construction features. If you have a chance, verify the structural support systems employed by the building for the floor and roof systems. If you have time, take the company on a quick site visit to that building that’s under construction or the renovations that are again underway in that commercial or business occupancy around the corner from quarters.
These continuing challenging economic times places a great deal of influence on what’s being built, how it might be constructed, the manner in which a building may be operational one day, vacant the other and under renovation the next. Sometimes these transformations occur literally overnight.
Take a good look around, this is your town…your district, your response area. Know your buildings, understand their performance profiles, and assess the predictability of performance. Remember; Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.
If you think these factors are not important OR you dismiss them as being non-material-think again;
Do you know where you’re going? Have you checked your compass lately to see if you are still on the right track?
They are Mission Critical for firefighter safety and incident mitigation
First-due company operations are influenced by a number of parameters and factors; some deliberate and dictated, others prescribed and prearranged and yet others subjective, biased, predisposed or at times accidental, casual and emotional. For many of you riding the seat or arriving assuming command; you understand the connotations and implications I’m making here.
Here’s an excellent discussion and debate point to bring up, when time permits today or this evening with your company or personnel; one that leads to a multitude of viewpoints, opinions and divisions.
On the first-due; what are the three or four key parameters when confronted with arrival indications of a fire within a structure that define your deployment and transition into operations?
Now, before everyone gets worked up; we all realize there are numerous variables affecting key decision-points that must be recognized, imputed, synthesized , analyzed and decisions made, assignments formulated and the task deployed; this list can be long – very long.
However, giving a building and occupancy with indications of a fire within, what has your experience provided you with the KEY influencing parameters? Are there key factors, or are there “lists” of factors based upon yet another “list” of conditions. The question is rhetorical the answeres are not.
Is it occupancy type, occupancy risk, fire behavior or fire dynamics, time, risk, communicated information, past performance factors (experience), presumed or known life hazards, predicated building or system performance, crew KSA sets or other factors, etc? Does naturalistic or RPDM decision-making influence; is the deployment tactically driven or predisposed by SOP, SOG or personal attributes and biases? Safety Conscious or aggressively driven? You get the picture…..
Try to distill them down to three or four mission critical key issues (if you can). This is a great exercise to see what everyone else considers the key factors to be or should be when deploying and going into operations; sometimes it’s more complex than just “pulling the line” or getting in….
Take the time to use some critical thinking and don’t be subjective….think about the responses and ask why?
As an officer, you need to stay abreast of operational issues and situations in order to be knowledgeable and conversant with the variables that may affect company deployments and subsequent operations. The National Fire Fighter Near Miss Reporting System (FFNMRS) has a vast collection of resources that are a few keystrokes and links away.
One of the most useful tools in the FFNMRS Tool Box of resources is the Near-Miss Report of the Week (ROTW). The direct link to the page is here.
Take some time to look over the content and subject matter available to you in the form of the weekly publication. The information provides insights and examples of situational near miss events and close calls that provide the lessons learned so that, when confronted with similar precursors or subtle indications, you may be able to draw from the ROTW and the from the lessons and insights of other Near Miss Reports that may prevent a similar close-call/near miss event or from escalating into a more serious event.
Take the time to review the ROTW, sign up for the weekly email delivery and most importantly- read the reports and integrate them into your training, drills, discussions, tabletops, chalk board or podcast talks. Get the FFNMRS reports embedded into your psyche.
Here’s what was sent out this week….
Multiple units responding to the same incident from different directions creates the potential for unscheduled arrivals at intersecting points. These points are most frequently intersections that are in one form or another controlled by devices ranging from stop signs to traffic lights. In this week’s ROTW, report 11-179, reminds us that a green light does not necessarily guarantee the way is safe to proceed.
[ ] Brackets denote reviewer de-identification.
“A municipal ALS equipped engine and a third service county ALS ambulance were dispatched by the same dispatch, on the same radio channel, to a local park for a trauma patient. While enroute, and less than two miles from our station, we approached a heavy traffic intersection, which is blind to the south side. Upon approach, the [brand deleted] signal preemption system (which both the engine and ambulance are equipped with) was delayed in capturing the light. The driver of the engine began to reduce speed and decelerate toward the intersection. As we approached the intersection we captured the light with the signal preemption system, giving us a GREEN light, but for whatever reason, the driver of the engine made a complete stop at the intersection. Just then the ambulance blew through the intersection, not stopping for the RED light. To our surprise, we didn’t hear or see this ambulance until they were in the intersection. Only because of the driver’s situational awareness and intuition (gut feeling) did we come to a complete stop to avoid a collision.”
Right of way rules, line of sight approaches, traffic light pre-emption devices and emergency response SOPs all support apparatus arriving at the scene of an emergency call. Despite all these efforts, human factor plays a role in the safe arrival of all units to their dispatched destination.
Once you have read the entire account of 11-179, and the related reports, consider the following with your colleagues.
- Many departments now have specific rules requiring units to stop at all red lights during emergency response. If your department has such rules in effect, are there any other recommendations for intersection travel to consider?
- The reporter states the driver’s “situational awareness and intuition” contributed to collision avoidance. How large of a role do you believe the two factors played? How do you promote/teach the effect of the “gut feeling” in your driver training sessions?
- How often do you encounter intersection situations with crossing emergency vehicle traffic? Given your estimate, what is your assessment of the likelihood of a collision based on the frequency?
- If your agency uses traffic pre-emptive signaling, how often is the system calibrated/fault-checked to ensure accuracy?
- How many “blind side” intersections exist in your response area? What is the significance of knowing where they are?
Emergency response ranges from high frequency, high risk to low frequency and high risk depending on how many calls for service a department receives. Reducing the risk associated, whether the frequency is high or low is an essential element of keeping our promise to the communities we serve. Doing your part by keeping your speed under control and being on the lookout for hazardous situations like intersections, will promote getting you to the scene quickly and returning for the next run.
Related Reports – Topical Relation: Driving: Intersections
Experience a near miss with another piece of apparatus while responding? Submit your report to www.firefighternearmiss.com today.
Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.
To Sign up to receive the Near-Miss Report of the Week by email, forward your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Firefighternearmiss.com is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Founding dollars were also provided by Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. The project is managed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and supported by FireFighterCloseCalls.com in mutual dedication to firefighter safety and survival.
We’ve provided some direct links from the ROTW webpage here, but there is a lot more on the firefighternearmiss.com site.
FFNMR – Report of the Week Archives [Direct Link, HERE]
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||36 KB||Sunshine fould driver’s vision.|
||49 KB||Fighting fire in a vacant structure, concerns addressed.|
||35 KB||Aerial stabilizer narrowly misses firefighter.|
||35 KB||Re-opening a roadway requires coordination.|
||37 KB||Wildland/urban interface fire reveals personnel/equipment needs.|
||37 KB||Apparatus electrified during test by contractor.|
||35 KB||Driver falls asleep on EMS call.|
||38 KB||Roof collapse ignites bedroom injuring firefighter.|
||28 KB||Engine contacts downed powerline at accident scene.|
||38 KB||Structure fire in concealed ceiling causes collapse, nearly trapping interior crews.|
||34 KB||Tire blows following apparatus check.|
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For some Program insights, check out the recent posting on CommandSafety.com: National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System; Untapped Resource
or go Directly to the Firefighternearmiss.com site, HERE
These are some of the Site File Categories;
- 2011 Calendar/Annual Report
- 2011 Calendar Modules
- 2010 Calendar / 2009 Annual Report
- 2009 Near-Miss Calendar
- Annual Reports
- Crew Resource Management
- Equipment Information
- Featured Reports
- Illustrated Case Studies
- Investigation Reports
- Media Center
- Near-Miss Matters eNewsletter
- Near-Miss Trainers
- Report of the Week Archives
- Reports for Training
- Sample Policies & Training Tools
- State Training Resources
- Table Top Training Exercises
National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System on Facebook, HERE
For a direct point of contact at the NFFNMRS;
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.
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.
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;
Day Eight Plus One: Mayday and Rapid Intervention Realities: The Phoenix Perspective
- Fire marshal finds mistakes made in fatal Wharton County egg farm fire
- Raw: Aerials over egg farm fire
- Raw: Fire captain killed battling 4-alarm blaze
- Egg farm fire that killed firefighter ruled accidental
- Video: KHOU: Wharton County fire captain killed battling 4-alarm blaze at …
- Wharton, Texas Fire Department
- Chronicle: Wharton firefighter killed in massive egg plant blaze
- ABC: Firefighter dies in four-alarm farm blaze
A few days ago I posted an article entitled here on TCO: Front Seat Responsibilities; On Both the LEFT and RIGHT Sides, however the original article was lost as a result of the site’s melt down on Friday; thus resulting in the loss of the posting (which I didn’t save-anywhere).
Thus, we have a more subdued post and insights in response to the publication and media attention brought forward from Orange County (FLA) fire and Rescue with the release of a video clip depicting less that desirable defensive driving techniques and questionable public relations and sensitivity. The media clip shows Orange County (FLA) Fire Rescue Engine 58 while enroute to a reported MVA with entrapment becomes embroiled in a vivid example of fire truck road rage with a POV which almost contributed to an accident and loss of control of the apparatus and the potential for serious repercussions to the entire crew of the engine. The mounted dash cam within the cab of the engine captures the entire event and provides a shining example of what NOT to do while engaged in emergency response OR what to emulate in the form of company officer leadership.
In the video, the apparatus drive and the company officer can be seen tailgating a car and continuously trying to alert the driver by using the horn over and over again, even with the sirens blaring.
Fire officials said the apparatus driver could have veered into the other two lanes, which were open, to avoid confrontation, but instead he tried to cut off the driver of the car while dash cameras caught officer flipping off the driver.
The Orange County Fire Department said Fire Fighter David Jordan and Lt. Thomas Veal were caught on the dash cameras of the fire truck driving recklessly, hitting a curb and giving a driver the middle finger. FF Jordan, the driver of Engine 58 who had been with the Orange County Fire Department for 22 years, was fired and Lt. Veal was demoted.
The Orange County Fire Department stated, “If this car in the video would have stopped he would have no choice but to run the vehicle into the back of the car,” a fire official said. The Fire Department said it is apologizing for the bad behavior of the two firefighters. “It’s at the point where he put the community at risk and his crew,” the official said. A Division Fire Chief said it’s the closest thing to road rage he’s ever seen from a firefighter. “I don’t know what the actual road rage definition is, but would I say it’s overly aggressive? Yes. We’re not going to tolerate that here,” said Orange County Fire and Rescue Division Chief Brian Morrow. “(They’re) very, very lucky (it was) a near miss. They didn’t roll the truck and they never would have made it to the call.”
The video also showed FF Jordan running over a curb at 40 miles per hour and then the fire truck swerving back into the lane as it continued to respond to the emergency.
“We are very lucky for what we call a near miss. They didn’t roll the truck, and they never would have made it to the call,” the official said. There was a compliment of a four firefighters on the apparatus at the time of the event. Officials said the video also showed Lt. Veal not wearing a seat belt. This was the second time the company officer was found not wearing his seat belt.
We often talk about the responsibilities of riding the seat; which is typically in reference to the right front or Officer’s Seat. But in reality; Front Seat Responsibilities; On Both the LEFT and RIGHT Sides of the apparatus cab are paramount, integrated and shared. It is the ultimate responsibility of the company officer (assigned, acting or covering) to monitor, control and provide leadership in the conduct of all operations of the company; its crew, the apparatus and its subsequent operations and tasks.
It also is the obligation, requirement and duty of the Apparatus Driver (Chauffeur, engineer, operator) to operate, control and drive the apparatus safely with due diligence, defensively and conscientiously. What the driver does or doesn’t do will affect the entire riding crew as will the commissions, omissions and derelictions of the company officer.
It would be naive to think the occurrence depicted from Orange County Fire and Rescue is an isolated instance. This type of behavior and driving habits has occurred and is occurring in other organizations around the country to varying degrees.
Some under the radar and obscured; in others, obviously apparent and blatantly condoned. Just look at state and national firefighter injury and LODD statistics to see our track record related to apparatus response, operations and driving. More importantly; look at your own company, department or crew.
For the driver and officer of Orange County Fire and Rescue Engine 58; they just “didn’t get it”. In most organizations, the Company officer and Apparatus Engineer; “Do Get it”. The leadership of Orange County Fire & Rescue took prompt actions to address the seriousness of the issues resulting from this event.
Let’s learn from this incident, look for opportunities and ways to enhance and improve our Front Seat Responsibilities; from supervisory actions, accountability and leadership, to defensive driving, safety conscious behaviors and attitudes, safer emergency response methods and improved and directed responsibilities towards our entire crew and the public at-large. The next time you’re riding the seat or behind the wheel- think about what’s going on as you make your way in response to that incident or returning to quarters. What are you doing to maintain the safety of your company and contribute towards the safety of the public we are sworn to serve.
- The Front Seat Responsibilities are on both the left and right sides of the cab and must be shared.
- And, are also in the seats riding backwards (buckling up).
- The question is; “Do YOU get it?”
Links and Resources
The award recognizes Executive Fire Officer Program students for exceptional research projects.
Capt. Marsar’s project, titled Can They Be Saved? Utilizing Civilian Survivability Profiling to Enhance Size-Up and Reduce Firefighter Fatalities in the Fire Department, City of New York, was selected as the Executive Leadership Course award winner. The National Fire Academy said it was chosen from among the more than 60 Applied Research Projects submitted this year, the highest number in the program’s 26-year history.
The Executive Fire Officer Program provides senior fire officers with information and education on various facets of fire administration. After a four-year course of study, participants are required to complete an applied research project that attempts to resolve a problem in their own organization.
View Capt. Marsar’s project: http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/pdf/efop/efo44310.pdf
Grab a cup of coffee and sit down for a special one hour program with Taking it to the Streets on FirefighterNetcast.com where we’ll be discussing the concept, research and application of Survivability Profiling with Captain Marsar and the manner in which it might be implemented in today’s emerging and evolving fire ground operational methodologies with Christopher Naum and this outstanding fire service leader.
STEPHEN MARSAR is a captain in the Fire Department of New York, covering in Engine Company 8 in Manhattan. He has previously served in Engine Company 16 and Ladder Companies 7 and 11. An ex-commissioner in the Bellmore (NY) Fire Department, he has certifications as a national and New York State fire instructor, NY instructor coordinator, and NY State Department of Health regional faculty member.
He serves on the adjunct faculty for the Nassau Community College, NY Fire Science Degree Program, and teaches for the FDNY and Nassau County, Long Island, Fire and EMS academies. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science and emergency services administration and is enrolled in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy.
Taking it to the StreetsTM is a monthly radio show featured on BlogTalk Radio and is hosted by Christopher Naum and is a Buildingsonfire.com Series and FireFighternetcast.com Production, © 2011 All Rights Reserved
Join in on the live open discussion with other fire service personnel from around the country. Check out the latest downloads of recent programs in the archives by visiting Taking it to the Street’s webpage on Firefighternetcast.com or for program insights at CommandSafety.com.
It seems we’ve struck some interests over past week since we first discussed the First-Due Fire Officer on the most recent edition of Taking it to the StreetsTM where we had a vibrant and insightful program in which we discussion some of the expansive facets related to the First-Due Fire Officer.
The formulative discussion revolved around a variety of functional elements, traits, responsibilities and duties befalling the First-Due Officer, and was followed up with a post here on Thecompanyoffer.com. We discussed how today’s First-Due Officer must perform smarter with increased perceptions, discernments and acumens with intelligence and wisdom that is drawn from further progressing and collective fire ground response and operational experiences.
My good friend Captain Willie Wines (aka The Iron Fireman) posted a great follow-up article associated with the radio program on his blog associated with further interpretations of the First-Due Officer. Check out “The First-Due Officer; What are you thinking?” HERE.
To further our dialog on the first-due, I’ve added a few series of video clips and images with related links to promote and stimulate your view of the first-due fireground scene as it relates to the variables and personnel perceptions; the need for diligence and cognitive situational awareness and risk assessment and being truly “prepared” both mentally and physically. By way of physically, I mean- is your gear and PPE, functional, operational and adequately in-place?
As you can see there are numerous instances where the difference in the incident outcome correlated to the level of PPE protection that was in-place and implemented at the time of adverse conditions or unexpected or unforeseen circumstances.
Here’s today’s situations to think about at the station, around the kitchen table, over a cup of coffee in the day room after your next alarm or tonight at the station for a “back step” company drill.
- What are the Adverse Conditions that might be encounted upon arrival as the First-Due?
- Flashover, Backdraft, Compromised or degraded Structural Conditions, Collapsed Conditions, Structural Collapse, Wind Drive Fire Behavior, Extreme Fire Behavior, Pre-Flashover/ Post-Flashover….
- How Effective are you in Reading the Smoke?
- How About Reading the Building? Do you understand Occupancy Profiling and Occupancy Risk?
- Are you Taking the Time to Read the Subtle or Pronounced Fireground Indicators.; Comprehend their meaning or are you just “too engaged in the tactic or task?”
- Do you have an appreciation for Tactical Patience?
- Are your operations Tactically Driven by SOP’s and SOGs?
- What Rules of Engagment are you considering?
- Have and IAP in mind?
There have been a lot of articles and postings on adverse conditions as companies are opening up or pushing into the structure on the initial entry. Take a look at the next two series of video clips related to flashover conditions and the impact of that fire behavior on the companies and personnel. In each instance companies were extremely fortunate that the injuries sustained were not more severe than encountered.
- What encounters have you or your company experienced?
- In retrospect how effective was the initial risk assessment and occupancy profile-was the size-up appropriate or were key indicators missed or neglected?
- Did the fast pace of the initial arrival and subsequent deployment filter or obscure mission critical indicators that should have been identified and acted upon?
- Did the tactical assignment and task overshadow tactical patience?
- Did someone or everyone miss reading the smoke, fire or occupancy risk?
- Did other tactical assignments contribute toward the unexpected or adverse conditions encountered, such as ventilation induced flashover? ( More on that topic for a later post; See Taking it the Streets November 4, 2010 show
There are a series of photos from a previous posting at STATter911 HERE that depicts firefighers working to push-in on a fire in a small residential occupancy. The ensuing flashover ignites the PPE of one firefighter. Look at the series of photographs and take note of the fire and smoke conditions, the size and profile of the occupancy ( remember it’s Occupancy RISK not Occupancy Type).
- Think about the sequencing of your initial operations.
- Think about the mission critical 360;
- how does that play into your initial incident actions plan (IAP)?
Companies were dispatched for an assignment for a house fire. Both E807 and TK807 responded with crews of 4 personnel each. E813 arrived on the scene and reported light smoke showing on side Alpha. Upon arrival on the scene, the crew from TK807 (four staff) made entry to the house. The following series of events led to conditions in the house that presented a flashover environment. The hose line from E813 burst, a backup line was not charged due to no established water supply, and the house was not yet ventilated. Without the protection of a hose line, the crew was committed to the house when the room flashed. One firefighter was apparently far enough in the house to avoid any injury, A second FF received 2nd degree burns to his right shoulder, and a third FF received the full force of the flashover suffering second-third degree burns to his face, hands, and the majority of his torso. (Original incident information posted at the time of the event)
- Photo 1: Firefighters don PPE and SCBA with light smoke visible in this first of four pictures shot by Tony George of PGFD Station 813
- Photo 2: Six seconds later a small amount of fire and darker smoke can be seen at the sliding glass door.
- Photo3: Forty-eight seconds after the initial picture, more fire and darker smoke are apparent.
- Photo 4: Exactly two-minutes after the first picture was shot, flashover occurs with firefighters inside.
Take a good look at the performance of PPE when utilized and implemented correctly….
Don’t ever underestimate the dynamics and uncertainty of the evolving fireground during your operations. The video clip here depicts how quickly operations can change from an investigation to a major mass casualty incident.
In addition, take a look at some information relate to another tragic incident response to a reported gas leak that occurred in December, 1983 that lead to five fire fighter LODD’s in Buffalo, New York. HERE
Here’s a series of Reports worth your time to read related to the First-Due:
On the most recent edition of Taking it to the StreetsTM we had a vibrant and insightful program in which we discussion some of the expansive facets related to the First-Due Officer. The discussion revolved around a variety of functional elements, traits, responsibilities and duties befalling the First-Due Officer.
Taking it to the Streets: The First-Due Officer
On Your Street, In Your City, Across the Country, Around the WorldTM
To listen or download the program, HERE
Regardless if you’re the First-Due Company Officer or the First-Due Commanding Officer, you have a tremendous level of responsibilities and the obligation to formulate and initiate immediate actions that require effective and efficient; identification, assessment, analysis and integration in the evolving fireground environment.
Or is it just; “pullin’ the line”, or “opening up” or “arriving on scene and assuming the command?”
The First-Due Officer has many facets, functions and pitfalls. Leadership, determination, fortitude, skills, resilience, strength, conviction, temperance, restraint and the courage to be safe are but a few of descriptors that define the role or could it be recklessness, ineptitude, incompetent, self-indulging, careless or dangerous: all in the name of tactical entertainment.
There are numerous avenues that a discussion can take when talking about the street level issues affecting the First-Due Officer. First and foremost, the First-Due Officer should have a solid foundation of requisite skill sets, knowledge and training tempered with experience and fortified with empathy and identification with crew and company integrity and safety.
Today’s First-Due Officer must perform smarter with increased perceptions, discernments and acumens with intelligence and wisdom that is drawn from further progressing and collective fire ground response and operational experiences. It’s no longer just brute force and physical determination that defines our fire ground operations, especially when we relate to the duties and responsibilities of the First-Due Officer.
Here are some things to think about today at the station, around the kitchen table or over a cup of coffee in the day room after your next alarm;
What defines the First Due Officer in your organization or company?
What effect and consequences does the First Due Officer have on Incident Operations?
- Is the First Due Officer defined by the level of aggressiveness they select and implement in their IAP on a consistent basis?
- Is there a correlation and parallel between Risk Management, Building Construction, Firefighter Survival and Aggressive Intervention that the First Due Officer must balance?
What is the Role of the First Due Officer?
- Strategic, Tactical or Task level Operations?
- Can they truly perform all of the functional facets required or implied by current fire ground operational models and practices?
- Can Risk Management really be implemented by the First-Due Officer? Is it being done in organization or company? Or is it just getting the “job done”?
- Company Level Crew Integrity and Safety & Survival
- Maintaining Fluid Situational Awareness
- Evolving and Expanding Operational Concerns
- Company Integrity
- Having Appropriate Technical Competencies, Knowledge and Skill Sets
- Confidence Experience and Operational Fortitude
- Abilities to Predict & Maintain; Focus, Forecast,
- Command & Leadership Presence in Strategic and/or Tactical deployments and Assignments
If you are an emerging, aspiring or seasoned Company or Command Officer;
- What are your First-Due Strategic or Tactical Decisions Based Upon?
- What is the Sum of your Experiences and Training?
- What Factors formulate your Risk Assessment Process & Action Planning?
- What is the Basis of your Decision-Making Process?
- What Do you really Know, Assume or Consider in the Buildings, Occupancies, Events & Incidents you interface with?
- Do “Fire Service Traditional Expectations” Cloud your Ability to “SEE” the Big Picture?
- What Defines you:
- Aggressive, Forceful, Dynamic, Influential, Passive, Conservative, Decisive, Measured,
- Leadership, Determination, Fortitude, Skilled, Resilience, Strength, Conviction, temperance, restraint and the courage to be safe
- Reckless, Inept, Incompetent, Self-indulging, Careless, Uncontrolled or Dangerous
- Are your deployments and operations Delineated in the name of Tactical Entertainment or Defined by Tactical Patience?
Remember this; It’s not the uniform, rank or helmet color that defines a person; it’s what you do that defines who you are.
- We must have the fortitude and courage to be both safety conscious and measured in the performance of our sworn duties while maintaining the appropriate balance of risk and bravery.
- The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger.
- Adequately and Effectively Prepare yourself for those First-Due Officer responsibilities; you have a tremendous level of responsibilities and obligations, Be all you can be, your companies an personnel are counting on you.
Taking it to the StreetsTM is a monthly radio show featured on BlogTalk Radio and is hosted by Christopher Naum and is a Buildingsonfire.com Series and Firefighternetcast.com Production, © 2010 All Rights Reserved
NIOSH: Uncoordinated ventilation caused flashover killing Ill. firefighterInvestigators say crews failed to recognize signs of an imminent flashover; firefighters were between the fire and ventilation points
By Ken Robinson
FireRescue1 Associate Editor
HOMEWOOD, Ill. — Uncoordinated ventilation caused a flashover that killed one firefighter and injured another when both failed to recognize signs of rapidly deteriorating conditions, investigators found.
Insufficient staffing was also cited as a key contributing factor in the incident, as crews on scene were stretched thin according to a NIOSH report released Tuesday.
Rookie Homewood Fire Department Firefighter-Paramedic Brian Carey was killed of smoke inhalation on March 30 while assisting in search and rescue of a reported victim trapped in a house fire, the report said.
Responding to reports of a downed brother, firefighters conducting a search discovered Firefighter-Paramedic Carey entangled in a hoseline and not wearing his helmet or facepiece, and without a hood.
Firefighter-Paramedic Karra Kopas, who had entered the structure along with him, was injured in the fire and had to be rescued four feet from the front door where she said her gear melted to the living room carpet.
At the time of the flashover, firefighters performing ventilation were not coordinating with hoseline and search and rescue crews inside the house, according to the investigation.
Both Firefighters Carey and Kopas were between the fire and the ventilation source.
“One firefighter accounts heavy, turbulent, black smoke pushing from a window on the B-side after it was broken,” the report said.
“Shortly after, the house sustained an apparent ventilation-induced flashover.”
NISOH says the thick, black and heavily pressurized smoke that exited through ventilation should have been acted upon as a warning sign.
“The IC, and individuals working on the exterior, need to recognize this as a potential for extreme fire behavior and evacuate interior crews,” the report said.
In addition, investigators recommend training firefighters under realistic conditions to indentify the signs of an imminent flashover.
“Obtaining proper training and hands-on experience through the use of a flashover simulator may assist interior firefighters in making sound decisions on when to evacuate a structure fire,” the report said.
The inability to appropriately coordinate fireground operations may have been directly tied to inadequate staffing.
“Due to short staffing, the ambulance personnel were tasked with fire suppression activities, thus taking them out-of-service as a medical unit,” the report said.
The incident commander, a Lieutenant, was also required to ride and operate as the officer of an Engine Crew due to short staffing.
“This removed him from his command response vehicle which would have allowed him to command at a tactical level versus having to potentially perform tasks,” the report said.
Investigators also found an accountability system was never put in place and a personnel accountability report was never conducted following the incident.
As a result of the incident, NIOSH made the following key recommendations for fire departments to follow:
- Ensure that a complete 360-degree situational size-up is conducted on dwelling fires and others where it is physically possible and ensure that a risk-versus-gain analysis and a survivability profile for trapped occupants is conducted prior to committing to interior firefighting operations.
- Ensure that interior fire suppression crews attack the fire effectively to include appropriate fire flow for the given fire load and structure, use of fire streams, appropriate hose and nozzle selection, and adequate personnel to operate the hose line.
- Ensure that firefighters maintain crew integrity when operating on the fireground, especially when performing interior fire suppression activities.
- Ensure that firefighters and officers have a sound understanding of fire behavior and the ability to recognize indicators of fire development and the potential for extreme fire behavior
Ensure that incident commanders and firefighters understand the influence of ventilation on fire behavior and effectively coordinate ventilation with suppression techniques to release smoke and heat.
- Ensure that firefighters use their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and are trained in SCBA emergency procedures.
Today’s leaders are utilizing contemporary leadership styles. The officer needs to know when to use each of these styles for optimum outcomes within the organization. The four (4) contemporary styles include charismatic, transformational, transactional and symbolic.
Charismatic – Inspires follower loyalty and creates an enthusiastic vision that others work to attain.
Transformational – This style depends on the continuous learning, innovation and change within the organization. True transformational leadership is a rare quality.
Transactional – Involves an exchange between the leader and the followers in which the followers perform tasks effectively in exchange for rewards provided by the leader.
Symbolic – Bases theory on a strong organizational culture that holds common values and beliefs. Leadership starts are the top of the organization and extends downward. Subordinates must have full faith and trust in the leadership of the organization.
To be able to lead a fire department or a company it is paramount that the leader of the group be able to match and effectively utilize any of the various leadership styles based upon the individuals they are leading.
This focuses on truly understanding the organizational theories, interpersonal dynamics and group dynamics of the individuals and groups which make up the organization. We will find that more often than not the leader will be utilizing multiple leadership styles on individuals of the group simultaneously to effectively achieve the desired outcomes. Each of these leadership styles will be a result of the presence of the various leadership traits. It is important for the officer to know the strengths and weaknesses of each theory and style along with being capable of applying the principles that are most appropriate in any given situation.
What is a Seat Belt: (in case you didn’t know) HERE
How Seat Belts Works: (in case you still didn’t know), HERE
Leadership: We Killed Firefighter Brian Hunton, HERE
NFFF/EGH: NIOSH Supports Seat Belt Use by Firefighters Resources, HERE
How Can my Department Take the Seatbelt Pledge? Click Here to Download the Pledge Form
» See Which Departments Have Taken the Pledge and Are 100% Compliant
» Watch: All of the Seat Belt Safety PSAs
» NIOSH Supports Seat Belt Use by Firefighters
» Dallas Fire-Rescue Gives Seat Belt Pledge a Shot in the Arm
» Beatrice, Neb. Fire Dept. Takes Seat Belt Pledge
» Dearborn Fire Dept. Takes the Seat Belt Pledge
» whsv.com Firefighter Seat Belt Petition
» Dr. Clark Article: Flaw in Our First Line of Defense
All firefighters realize and understand the importance of time when it comes to responding to an emergency incident. Time is recognized as one limited resource that must be maximized in every aspect. A difference in seconds may mean the difference between a fires being confined to the point of origin verses a fully engulfed room or a person being clinically dead verses biologically dead. Time is critical in every case.
But how do we, as company officers, view and utilize time between emergencies? It is common that most fire companies spend less than 10% of their time responding to and mitigating emergencies. The remaining 90% should be spent preparing and engaged in accomplishing the department’s mission.
Time management should be a consideration in the life of the fire department company officer. Failure to maximize available time available impacts the overall effectiveness of the company. It is critical that time management be a part of the predicated skills of a company officer. The more efficient your time management is the more you can focus on the effectiveness. It is the goal of this article to give the company officer, a place to start, regardless of the condition of the organization you are involved with. This starting point will give you guidance to implement a plan for yourself and the individuals of your company. This will enable the entire company to become a more effective unit and be utilized to its fullest potential.
There was a time in the history of the fire service that all we did was sit and wait for the alarm to sound and then we would race to the fire. The outcomes of these fires were never questioned. The integrity of the department was unquestionable. Well, times have changed and changed drastically. Citizens expect much more from their fire departments and they should receive it. In the economically challenged times we are faced with today, we are expected to accomplish more than ever before.
The first thing you must do as a company officer, if you are to effectively manage your time and utilize the company effectively, is to look at the framework in which your company operates. Ask yourself “Does the company have goals, objectives and action plans?” When you evaluate your answer ask, “Are these goals, objectives and action plans designed for the companies and personnel assigned to my station?” When you answer both questions, then ask the final question. “Do I have goals, objectives and action plans?” Obviously the key word in all three of these questions is PLAN. Without planning, no fire company will ever be cohesive, well-trained, productive unit we all strive for.
Planning is a continuous function that reaches well into the future. Planning creates the Global Positioning System (GPS) road map for the accomplishment of certain goals within a given time frame.
Both the increasing demands on the fire service – such as the growing number of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responses, challenges from natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents, and acts of terrorism—and previous research point to the need for scientifically based studies of the effect of different crew sizes and firefighter arrival times on the effectiveness of the fire service to protect lives and property.
To meet this need, a research partnership of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) was formed to conduct a multiphase study of the deployment of resources as it affects firefighter and occupant safety. Starting in FY 2005, funding was provided through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) / Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Grant Program Directorate for Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program—Fire Prevention and Safety Grants. In addition to the low-hazard residential fireground experiments described in this report, the multiple phases of the overall research effort include development of a conceptual model for community risk assessment and deployment of resources, implementation of a general sizable department incident survey, and delivery of a software tool to quantify the effects of deployment decisions on resultant firefighter and civilian injuries and on property losses.
The first phase of the project was an extensive survey of more than 400 career and combination (both career and volunteer) fire departments in the United States with the objective of optimizing a fire service leader’s capability to deploy resources to prevent or mitigate adverse events that occur in risk- and hazard-filled environments. The results of this survey are not documented in this report, which is limited to the experimental phase of the project. The survey results will constitute significant input into the development of a future software tool to quantify the effects of community risks and associated deployment decisions on resultant firefighter and civilian injuries and property losses.
The following research questions guided the experimental design of the low-hazard residential fireground experiments documented in this report:
- How do crew size and stagger affect overall start-to-completion response timing?
- How do crew size and stagger affect the timings of task initiation, task duration, and task completion for each of the 22 critical fireground tasks?
- How does crew size affect elapsed times to achieve three critical events that are known to change fire behavior or tenability within the structure:
- Entry into structure?
- Water on fire?
- Ventilation through windows (three upstairs and one back downstairs window and the burn room window),
- How does the elapsed time to achieve the national standard of assembling 15 firefighters at the scene vary between crew sizes of four and five? In order to address the primary research questions, the research was divided into four distinct, yet interconnected parts:
- Part 1—Laboratory experiments to design appropriate fuel load
- Part 2—Experiments to measure the time for various crew sizes and apparatus stagger (interval between arrival of various apparatus) to accomplish key tasks in rescuing occupants, extinguishing a fire, and protecting property
- Part 3—Additional experiments with enhanced fuel load that prohibited firefighter entry into the burn prop – a building constructed for the fire experiments
- Part 4—Fire modeling to correlate time-to-task completion by crew size and stagger to the increase in toxicity of the atmosphere in the burn prop for a range of fire growth rates. The experiments were conducted in a burn prop designed to simulate a low-hazard1 fire in a residential structure described as typical in NFPA 1710® Organization and Deployment of Fire
Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments. NFPA 1710 is the consensus standard for career firefighter deployment, including requirements for fire department arrival time, staffing levels, and fireground responsibilities. Limitations of the study include firefighters’ advance knowledge of the burn prop, invariable number of apparatus, and lack of experiments in elevated outdoor temperatures or at night. Further, the applicability of the conclusions from this report to commercial structure fires, high rise fires, outside fires, terrorism/natural disaster response, HAZMAT or other technical responses has not been assessed and should not be extrapolated from this report.
- Of the 22 fireground tasks measured during the experiments, results indicated that the following factors had the most significant impact on the success of fire fighting operations.
- All differential outcomes described below are statistically significant at the 95 % confidence level or better.
Overall Scene Time:
- The four-person crews operating on a low-hazard structure fire completed all the tasks on the fireground (on average) seven minutes faster—nearly 30 %—than the two-person crews.
- The four-person crews completed the same number of fireground tasks (on average) 5.1 minutes faster—nearly 25 %—than the three-person crews.
- On the low-hazard residential structure fire, adding a fifth person to the crews did not decrease overall fireground task times.
- However, it should be noted that the benefit of five-person crews has been documented in other evaluations to be significant for medium- and high-hazard structures, particularly in urban settings, and is recognized in industry standards.
Time to Water on Fire:
- There was a 10% difference in the “water on fire” time between the two- and three-person crews.
- There was an additional 6% difference in the “water on fire” time between the three- and four-person crews. (i.e., four-person crews put water on the fire 16% faster than two person crews). There was an additional 6% difference in the “water on fire” time between the four- and five-person crews (i.e. five-person crews put water on the fire 22% faster than two-person crews).
Ground Ladders and Ventilation:
- The four-person crews operating on a low-hazard structure fire completed laddering and ventilation (for life safety and rescue) 30 % faster than the two-person crews and 25 % faster than the three-person crews.
- The three-person crews started and completed a primary search and rescue 25 % faster than the two-person crews.
- The four- and five-person crews started and completed a primary search 6 % faster than the three-person crews and 30 % faster than the two-person crew.
- A 10 % difference was equivalent to just over one minute.
Hose Stretch Time:
- In comparing four-and five-person crews to two-and three-person crews collectively, the time difference to stretch a line was 76 seconds.
- In conducting more specific analysis comparing all crew sizes to the two-person crews the differences are more distinct.
- Two-person crews took 57 seconds longer than three-person crews to stretch a line.
- Two-person crews took 87 seconds longer than four-person crews to complete the same tasks.
- Finally, the most notable comparison was between two-person crews and five-person crews—more than 2 minutes (122 seconds) difference in task completion time.
Industry Standard Achieved:
- As defined by NFPA 1710, the “industry standard achieved” time started from the first engine arrival at the hydrant and ended when 15 firefighters were assembled on scene.
- An effective response force was assembled by the five-person crews three minutes faster than the four-person crews.
- Based on the study protocols, modeled after a typical fire department apparatus deployment strategy, the total number of firefighters on scene in the two- and three-person crew scenarios never equaled 15 and therefore the two- and three-person crews were unable to assemble enough personnel to meet this standard.
- Three different “standard” fires were simulated using the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) model. Characterized in the Handbook of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers as slow-,medium-, and fast-growth rate4, the fires grew exponentially with time.
- The rescue scenario was based on a non-ambulatory occupant in an upstairs bedroom with the bedroom door open. Independent of fire size, there was a significant difference between the toxicity, expressed as fractional effective dose (FED), for occupants at the time of rescue depending on arrival times for all crew sizes. Occupants rescued by early-arriving crews had less exposure to combustion products than occupants rescued by late-arriving crews.
- The fire modeling showed clearly that two-person crews cannot complete essential fireground tasks in time to rescue occupants without subjecting them to an increasingly toxic atmosphere. For a slow-growth rate fire with two-person crews, the FED was approaching the level at which sensitive populations, such as children and the elderly are threatened.
- For a medium-growth rate fire with two-person crews, the FED was far above that threshold and approached the level affecting the general population.
- For a fast-growth rate fire with two-person crews, the FED was well above the median level at which 50%of the general population would be incapacitated. Larger crews responding to slow-growth rate fires can rescue most occupants prior to incapacitation along with early-arriving larger crews responding to medium-growth rate fires.
- The result for late-arriving (two minutes later than early-arriving) larger crews may result in a threat to sensitive populations for medium-growth rate fires.
- Statistical averages should not, however, mask the fact that there is no FED level so low that every occupant in every situation is safe.
More than 60 full-scale fire experiments were conducted to determine the impact of crew size, first-due engine arrival time, and subsequent apparatus arrival times on firefighter safety and effectiveness at a low-hazard residential structure fire.
- This report quantifies the effects of changes to staffing and arrival times for residential firefighting operations. While resource deployment is addressed in the context of a single structure type and risk level, it is recognized that public policy decisions regarding the cost-benefit of specific deployment decisions are a function of many other factors including geography, local risks and hazards, available resources, as well as community expectations.
- This report does not specifically address these other factors. The results of these field experiments contribute significant knowledge to the fire service industry.
- First, the results provide a quantitative basis for the effectiveness of four-person crews for low-hazard response in NFPA 1710.
- The results also provide valid measures of total effective response force assembly on scene for fireground operations, as well as the expected performance time-to-critical-task measures for low-hazard structure fires.
Additionally, the results provide tenability measures associated with a range of modeled fires.Future research should extend the findings of this report in order to quantify the effects of crew size and apparatus arrival times for moderate- and high-hazard events, such as fires in high-rise buildings, commercial properties, certain factories, or warehouse facilities, responses to large-scale non-fire incidents, or technical rescue operations.
As we embark deep into the millennium and a new decade, changes are sure to occur. The fire service will surely see many of these changes. The place that we need to make changes initially is within ourselves as officers. We must be prepared to meet these new challenges and a new decade with a set of fully charged batteries. The task of change is extremely hard, as we are often times nostalgic. However, we must strive to reach new levels in service through education and training. The first taste of leadership in recruit academies is seen by trainees through the instructors and officers they have. As a young officer one of my mentors told me this little secret, “A true instructor is a leader of the future”. With that I had to ask how? My answer was, “you shape the minds and careers of many firefighters through education. By doing so you are leading the fire service of tomorrow.” It was not until much later that I could truly understood what this great leader was talking about. I have found it to be true that you lead tomorrow’s firefighters through instruction today.
An officer / instructor profile needs to encompass several areas to be able to meet these challenges and changes that we will face. First, we must find new motivation. Motivation that exceeds all levels previous. We must bring newfound excitement to the instructional programs we deliver. The excitement level that comes with the officer carries over and motivates the student to the same level or higher. We as instructors must enter the education setting that instruction is to take place with a true teaching attitude not one of just doing the minimum. Officers need to develop the right attitude about instructing. Attitude starts with evaluating whether you are meeting the mission statement of the fire service and your department through the training that you are performing. Secondly, you must evaluate whether your training is realistic. That is, realistic for your operations and equipment. Higher levels of training are great and have their place, but are we meeting the needs of the departments we serve. If not, we need to reevaluate what and how we are teaching. We must find new ways to deliver quality training in a society where budgets are being slashed to below acceptable levels. This will require you as the officer / instructor to be innovative if you are faced with a substandard budget. There are many resources that are available to a department and an officer if we just look for and cease the opportunities that are available. One opportunity that is not utilized by the fire service to the level that it could be is the National Fire Academy and the Learning Resource Center located there. The quality of education provided by the Fire Academy provides for one of the ultimate learning experiences you could encounter. Finally is your training current or out dated. I know that this is a big argument in every department. “We have done it this way for 30 years”, that is well and good. However, is there a more current, more progressive or better way?
The officer / instructor for this millennium is a three-part process that starts with the instructor as I have shown above. It does have two other key components, such as leaders and students. Leaders must take a more proactive role rather than the typical reactive role. Change is easier when affected from the top down rather than from the bottom up. As a leader of a department you must ask yourself several questions; Are we prepared for the changes of tomorrow? Are we currently meeting our training needs? Are we ready for what we are destined to face in the near future? Are we, as a group, willing to change to meet these new demands?
These are some key questions that not only leaders must ask of themselves, but each department and its members must also do this. Remember talk is cheap and your actions will speak louder than words. These actions may be the spark that starts or revitalizes motivation in the organization.
The students also play an interracial part in the training process. A student today must recognize that changes are imminent and concur. This starts with the willingness of a student to be motivated to new levels by their officers, their peers and by themselves. Motivation is the starting point for change. This motivation should bring new or revived energy. This new energy should be focused towards learning new ideas, concepts and techniques. This will require the student to explore new realms of the fire service and the knowledge that is directly associated. Exploration often times means traveling to different areas of the state, region or nation to find new information and ideas. Large symposiums and conferences like FDIC,
FIREHOUSE Expo and others are excellent examples of this travel where you can meet and learn from individuals worldwide. Travel can occur and you never leave the station. When fire journals arrive, do more than just look at the pictures. The availability of information on the World Wide Web is only a simple search away. Read and study how different departments handle responses and situations. Read the articles for more than just leisure reading. Once in these setting you must be willing as a student to explore new ideas. We often forget as instructors that we are also students. Each time you teach, you should be learning. All of these concepts are important, but without discipline to recognize and participate, change will not occur.
As officer / instructors you have an obligation to provide quality education. The future of the fire service depends on the utilization of our talents as educators. You see, the attributes of good instructors coincide very closely with good leaders. Company officers are the true leaders of the fire service.
Knowledge is power, share it!
We’ve just posted Ten Minutes in the Street: Stretchin’ the line on the First-Due . Join in on the discussions and dialog on strategies, tactics, command, decision-making and firefighter safety. There’s lots to be gained either by active participation or side-line observations of the postings and view points from a wide lattitude of firefighters, company and command officers from around the United States and abroad. So don’t just sit there, get ready to stretch that line in on the action.
Check out other previously published Ten Minutes in the Street Scenarios HERE
These scenarios make for great drill topics, table top exercises and discussion points for all ranks and personnel
I have heard a lot of analogies over my career about the fire service like “You can peal one fire department name off the wall and replace it with another one and it would be the same” and “it is the same circus but with different clowns”. The more I hear this type of talk the more I have come to realize that we got some really big issues at hand that need immediate attention. I have witnessed many events and issues over the years and recently listened to a guest speaker at church talk about recent situations he was in and how his staff reacted. The first thought that came to mind was the fire service. I know that many folks are going to say here is a negative attitude about to come out. Well it just might be but it is reality and we have to face that it is what it is! We have three types of folks in the fire service: Shiners, Whiners and Recliners. So which do you fall into? Let’s take a look at all three and see what we can do to identify their characteristics.
This group known as the shiners in the fire service is the backbone of keeping the fire service moving and getting the work accomplished. These individuals work tirelessly in efforts to make the fire service more professional, safer ad better educated. They work to improve the safety of the community and give of themselves wholly. So why do Shiners get criticized so much. I recently had a department’s Deputy Chief tell me, “the more we do, the more they are going to expect and that will keep us having to do more, we need to coast for a while. We need to slow some of these folks down so we are not expected to do as much.”
The “Shiners” are self motivated and they are always looking to make the system better. They are team players and truly care about the fire service. This group of personnel is usually only a hand full in your department. This is not always the case as I have witnessed departments that the majority of the personnel were shiners.
Shiners are driven to find better ways to do their jobs. Even though a firefighter may have pried open a door on a search and rescue assignment, he may spend his time off thinking of a better or faster way of accomplishing the same task. That firefighter may spend time at construction sites or outside training to find out what works and what doesn’t. The whiners would complain that they had to work too hard, they didn’t have enough help, didn’t have the newest piece of equipment and not enough training. However if they had all they were complaining about it would be something else. These individuals are never satisfied and they try to bring everyone else down to be in their misery. The recliners would do just that, they would be hanging back doing nothing and telling everyone just how much they have done.
Time and success are very important to the shiner. Shiners are never content with the status quo and tend to be highly organized. To the average person, a shiner’s desire to have things in such an orderly fashion and in control could be considered “obsessive-compulsive.” Shiners also tend to be easily bored, which makes them more inclined to find trouble or become productive. Shiners are always trying new ideas, techniques and looking for a better way. Not embracing mediocrity, they believe if it is not broke lets break it, let’s find a better way.
Whiners would do just that whine that they are always tied up and they are too busy. They have a tendency to always be complaining and not working. The down grade new ideas and believe status quo is good. It has worked for the last twenty years so why do we need to go changing. The whiners like being bored; it gives them something to whine about.
The recliners believe success is measured in how much time they can be reclined in the lazy boys resting. Recently I have heard firefighters and officers with the mentality that we are here to run calls and fight fires not all this other busy work crap. The public demands us to be in the stations so they know we are ready to respond. Well from the typical position of feet propped up and head laid back position that is what they see. Unfortunately they never make it out of the station to see that the public and the job demands more.
Shiners, whiners and recliners, all firefighters don’t tend to be loners; they seek out group activities on the job and off the job. It has been said that birds of a feather flock together. Firefighters work and live in a group environment. From their very first day walking into a fire station, recruits learn that the fire service functions in a team environment. Firefighters train in groups, work in groups, live in groups and eat in groups. This close interaction favors people who are trusting, cooperative, dependable and determined. Because firefighters share so much of their lives with each other, they generally will build team values, foster increased team cohesion, and identify each member’s strength and weakness.
However, some firefighter personality traits may conflict with the team environment. The fire service is generally looking for people who are assertive, upbeat and talkative. Each of these traits can be of benefit to the group, but they also can be a liability to the team. So the shiners are carrying the recliners why the whiners are complaining about the entire situation.
In an interesting look at how firefighters work together, a study on work injury frequency and duration found that when firefighters cooperated in groups, injury rates were lower than when firefighters didn’t interact with each other. Firefighters who are reluctant to interact with other firefighters may in fact be reluctant to ask for help when they’re in trouble, possibly leaving them at risk of injury. So we can see that the shiners who most likely are always training and learning are our lowest risk to injuries. The whiners are complaining about something and most likely get out of doing it to speed the operation up and the recliners, well they are the ones who end up injured since they have not trained or worked much with the other groups. Heck it is tough getting up out of the recliner and doing something.
During my 29 years in the fire service, seldom have I witnessed a shiner give up on a task. Shiners will work at all cost to complete a task or assignment, sometimes placing them self at risk for the betterment of the task. A whiner may complete a task but it usually takes double the time as they have to complain about it for one length and then after realizing they are being forced to do the work get it accomplished…whining the entire time about it. The recliners well it may or may not get done and most times it is the shiners who pick up their slack and get it completed for them.
Failure isn’t in the Shiner’s vocabulary, so when Shiners are faced with a failed mission, they tend to take it very personally. Some administrators may think that a mission was a success without realizing that the shiner may have viewed the mission in a different light. Sometimes the fire chief’s viewpoint and the shiner’s viewpoint aren’t the same, resulting in conflict. The whiner’s failure is in the forefront of their vocabulary as they will be quick to tell you that this will not work and embrace failure. They then blame it on someone else saying that it was stupid to begin with and they knew it would not work from the start. The recliner’s view on this is well…if we sit around long enough someone else will do it or it will go away and we won’t have to deal with it. Problem is…they are correct, a shiner will pick it up of the mission dies due to lack of interest.
Firefighting isn’t just a job to the shiner; it’s who they are. Shiners strongly identify with the job, as evidenced by the off-duty clothing, homes and vehicles of many. They’re highly dedicated people who love nothing better than a bigger and better challenge. On the flip side, a shiner who loses his or her job because of layoffs, early retirement, disability retirement or regular retirement will lose this identity, which can be personally devastating. Whiners do what they do best they whine but they are in the same boat here as the shiners if they would lose his or her job because of layoffs, early retirement, disability retirement or regular retirement will lose this identity, which can be personally devastating. Why because they like the sense of belonging to have something to whine about. They have to start all over again in some cases. Most whiners are whiners in all aspects of their life so they will transition easier than the shiner. Recliners will embrace this because they get to do more of what they like.
Another common denominator in many shiners’ personalities is the burning desire to help people. Shiners enjoy helping out people in need. Firefighters are people who will place their own lives in jeopardy in order to save a life. They enter the fire service knowing that the fire service is a high-risk occupation and that they will place their own lives on the line for others. The whiners hold the same desire at a lesser level but like the fact they get to whine about having to do something. The recliners got into this because of the ability to hang out, do nothing and be involved. Shiners in their off-duty time have a tendency for volunteering with local civic groups or raise money for Muscular Dystrophy Association in an effort to help others. You rarely see a whiner or recliner involved in an event like this unless there is something in it for them personally.
Well what I have described is the shiners, whiners and recliners theory. I know that this is a different piece under leadership, not politically correct and made a bunch of folks mad, but it has value. The value is these are the types of people you are forced to manage and deal with on a daily basis. My advice is to keep the shiners motivated, give the whiners plenty to whine about and the recliners move them to the busiest station where they can’t recline or just get rid of them, they are dead weight.
Learning from the Past: Five Alarm Church Fire and Collapse leads to two Line of Duty Deaths (LODD) and Twenty-Nine Fire Fighter Injuries three hours into the incidentNo comments
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
References and follow up;
NIOSH Report F2004-017 March 13, 2004
Career battalion chief and career master fire fighter die and twenty-nine career fire fighters are injured during a five alarm church fire – Pennsylvania
Being a leader does not mean you have to be the Chief Brunacini in your fire department. In fact trying to be some type of leader you are not can get you into deep trouble. It is important to develop your own styles and type. In the 1980’s Dr. Warren Bennis of the University of California conducted a 5 year research study that look specifically at various styles of effective leaders. It is interesting to see that the results found that although each leader had his or her distinctive leadership style, they all shared four leadership competencies. These have been identified as the keys to successful leadership and Dr. Bennis identified them as: Management of Attention, Management of meaning, Management of Trust, Management of Self.
• Management of Attention – This component is described as the ability to draw others to themselves through an intense focus of attention. Individuals who possess this ability have routinely been able to get others to enroll in their own visions. This has even been to the point that they have adopted the vision as their own. Leaders always keep their intentions in clear evidence.
• Management of Meaning – This is the ability to communicate visions, dreams, and ideas effectively to others. These leaders do more than use words they use their entire person to communicate this message. These leaders know talk is cheap and that actions and appearances are the effective ways to communicate.
• Management of Trust – This is an essential aspect of leadership. This section is about constancy and focus. I am sure you have heard individuals say “you know where they are coming from and what they stand for”. If you want to be a successful leader, your people have to trust you in order to follow you. They want a leader they can count on, even if they disagree with them rather than one they agree with but changes position constantly.
• Management of Self – This is the ability to know one’s own skills and limitations and to get the most out of them. If you don’t have this trait you can do more harm than good. Leaders concentrate on positive goals and do not focus on risks. Here you must reject the idea of failure. Here you need to be able to display total confidence and not worry about mistakes.
These leadership skills can be learned and used as company officers. Leadership, more than anything else, is a role the Company Officer must effectively fill. Often what we are seeing in today’s society is the “GAP”. That GAP is that the company officer is failing to assume this role and it is critical in the operations and safety of today’s fire service.
Situational Awareness and Risk Assessment
Situation Awareness related to Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Firefighter Safety is another mission critical element. Situation Awareness (SA) is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future. It is also a field of study concerned with perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic situations and incidents. Both the 2006 and 2007 Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System Annual Reports identified a lack of situational awareness as the highest contributing factor to near misses reported.
• Situation Awareness involves being aware of what is happening around you at an incident scene to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact operational goals and incident objectives, both now and in the near future.
• Lacking SA or having inadequate SA has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error.
• Situation Awareness becomes especially important in the structural fire suppression and firefighter domains where the information flow can be quite high and poor decisions can lead to serious consequences.
• Dynamic Risk Assessment is commonly used to describe a process of risk assessment being carried out in a changing or evolving environment, where what is being assessed is developing as the process itself is being undertaken.
• This is further problematical for the Incident Commander when confronted with competing or conflicting incident priorities, demands or distractions before a complete appreciation of all mission critical or essential information and data has been obtained.
• The dynamic management of risk is all about effective, informed and decisive decision making during all phases of an incident at a structural fire.
The integration of Situational Awareness and Dynamic Risk Assessment related to the building and occupancy is a mission critical element in managing structural fires and in the strategic command management and company level tactical operations as we go forward into the next decade.
• Traditional phased incident scene size-up and monitoring is antiquated and no longer appropriate or applicable to modern fire service operations.
• Situational awareness is a combination of attitudes, previously learned knowledge and new information gained from the incident scene and environment that enables the strategic commanders, decision-makers and tactical companies to gather the information they need to make effective decisions that will keep their firefighters and resources out of harm’s way, reducing the likelihood of adverse or detrimental effects.
Command and company officers and firefighters MUST understand the building, the occupancy features and the inherent impact of fire within and on the structure, AND be able to identify, communicate and take actions necessary to support the incident action and battle plans, mitigate incident conditions and provide for continuous safety protection to themselves, their team, their company and the entire alarm assignment operating at the incident scene.
Everyone on the incident scene MUST stay alert to changing conditions, obvious or latent conditions or escalating factors that require prompt identification, comprehension and appropriate implementation of actions. To the Incident Commander, fire officer or firefighter, knowing what’s going on around you, in and around the building structure and understanding the consequences of building, construction, assembly, fire load and fire development and growth is mission critical to incident stabilization and mitigation and profoundly crucial in terms of personnel safety. Maintain a three-sixty sphere of observation and awareness at all times.
A PDF Activity program is available at the following link HERE, that provides you with a series of incident scene images and questions that can be utilized for enhancing skill sets in the areas of Situational Awareness, Size-up and Risk Assessment and Profiling. It’s attached as a PFD File. If your interested in obtaining an electronic file as a Power Point Program, please submit an email request at; Christopher.email@example.com
Both leadership and management are important and have their place. it is important not to confuse the two as they are different. Leadership is the skill and an attitude that enables one to get others to accomplish the objectives or goals that have been established. Management is the ability or skill of controlling resources, activities or tasks during the accomplishment of a objectives or goals. It is important to realize that these two concepts work synergistically together and that one without the other is not going to be very effective. “leadership is doing the right things, management is doing things right”, according to Doctor Warren Bennis of the University of California.
We can break this down a little further for understanding. We manage resources but you must lead people. The application of leadership and management will vary based upon several components; the resources at hand, the people, the confidence and abilities of the fire officer. Each officer will develop their own style. It is important to have a harmoneous balance between management and leadership. This balance will be dictated by the objectives or goals to be acheived.
There are three basic supervision styles; Autocratic, Democratic, Laissez-Faire.
Autocratic – I Decide
Democratic – We decide
Laissez-Faire – You decide
Effective Company Officers must have a mastery of all three styles and learn through experience which is the best style for every situation. Remember this is a learning process to reach “mastery”. You will make mistakes along the way in choosing the right style for a given situation. That is normal and it becomes a great basis for future decision making. When you make a mistake in choosing a style of supervision it doesn’t hurt to be humble with your personnel and let them know you made a mistake and you recognize it. When they recognize your sincere efforts to improve your supervision, you will gain respect from them. Remember respect is best earned not demanded.
NIOSH issues Report on: Leading Recommendations for Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities, 1998–2005
The United States currently depends on approximately 1.1 million fire fighters to protect its citizens and property from losses caused by fire. Each year in the United States, approximately 100 fire fighters die in the line of duty. Sudden cardiac death is the leading cause of fatalities, followed by trauma. In 1998, Congress appropriated funds to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for a fire fighter safety initiative. As part of this initiative, NIOSH developed and implemented the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP).
The overall goal of the NIOSH FFFIPP is to reduce the number of fire fighter fatalities. To accomplish this goal, NIOSH conducts investigations of line-of-duty fire fighter deaths to identify contributing factors and to generate recommendations for prevention.
This document is a synthesis of the 1,286 individual recommendations from the 335 FFFIPP investigations conducted from 1998 to 2005. We hope that the fire service will use this document as a resource and catalyst for developing, updating, and implementing effective policies, programs, and training to prevent fatalities among fire fighters.
The report document summarizes the most frequent recommendations from the first 8 years of the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP). The overall goal of the program is to reduce the number of fire fighter fatalities.
Through 2005, the FFFIPP investigated 335 fatal incidents involving 372 fire fighter fatalities. The investigations encompassed a variety of circumstances such as cardiovascular-related deaths, motor vehicle accidents, structure fires, diving incidents, and electrocutions. Fatalities have been investigated in career, volunteer, and combination departments in both urban and rural settings throughout the United States.
This document shares the most common recommendations from the 335 investigations and more than 1,286 recommendations that were developed by NIOSH investigators. These recommendations were developed using existing fire service standards, guidelines, standard operating procedures, and other relevant resources over the first eight years of the program. Fire departments can use this document when developing, updating, and implementing policies, programs, and training for fire fighter injury prevention efforts.
Download or review the NIOSH Report HERE