A veteran fire captain testified Wednesday that he was trapped in debris that fell from a ceiling during a February 2011 fire at a luxury home in the Hollywood Hills, where another longtime firefighter suffered fatal injuries.
Called to testify during a hearing to determine if an architect who designed and oversaw the construction of the home should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter, Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Edward Watters told Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan that he “heard a loud bang” and suddenly found himself lying on his back with a “lot of weight on my chest.”
Gerhard Albert Becker—a 48-year-old German national who owned, designed and built the home —is charged in connection with the death of firefighter Glenn Allen, 61.
Allen, a 36-year veteran of the LAFD, died two days after being struck by a portion of the ceiling during the Feb. 16, 2011, blaze.
Chicago firefighter Herbert Johnson, left, poses with Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, right, after Johnson was promoted to the rank of captain. Johnson died from injuries sustained while fighting a house fire on the South Side. — Chicago Fire Department
”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.
Capt. Johnson from a 2006 Sun-Times photo
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.
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.
“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.
On December 3, 1999, a five-alarm fire at the Worcester Cold Storage & Warehouse Co. building claimed the lives of six brave firefighters who responded to the call. These six heros, The Worcester 6, sacrificed their lives to try and rescue two individuals who were believed to be trapped inside the inferno. May the Worcester 6 always be remembered; “Fallen Heroes Never Forgotten.”
Paul A. Brotherton
Timothy P. Jackson
Jeremiah M. Lucey
James F. Lyons
Joseph T. McGuirk
Thomas E. Spencer
Mission Critical Reports, Links and Reading for the Company and Command Officer:
From last year’s posting and links at CommandSafety.com: HERE
The Waldbaum’s Supermarket Fire and Collapse FDNY 1978
The Waldbaum Super market fire, Brooklyn, New York occurred on August 2, 1978. Six firefighters died in the line of duty when the roof of a burning Brooklyn supermarket collapsed, plunging 12 firefighters into the flames. The fire began in a hallway near the compressor room as crews were renovating the store, and quickly escalated to a fourth-alarm. Less than an hour after the fire was first reported, nearly 20 firefighters were on the roof when the central portion gave way.
Captain Araguz, a 30 year old, 11-year veteran of the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department made Captain in 2009. He lost his life while battling a multiple alarm fire a the Maxim Egg Farm located at 3307 FM 442, Boling, Texas on July 3, 2010. The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office issued the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report, SFMO Case Number FY10-01 that provides a detailed examination of the incident, operations and yeilds findings and recommendations. A full version of the report is available at the Texas SFMO web site HERE.
On July 3, 2010, Wharton Volunteer Fire Department Captain Thomas Araguz III was fatally injured during firefighting operations at an egg production and processing facility. At 9:41 PM, Wharton County Sheriff’s Office 911 received a report of a fire at the Maxim Egg Farm located at 3307 FM 442, Boling, Texas. Boling Volunteer Fire Department and the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department responded first, arriving approximately 12 minutes after dispatch. Eventually, more than 30 departments with 100 apparatus and more than 150 personnel responded. Some departments came as far as 60 miles to assist in fighting the fire.
The fire involved the egg processing building, including the storage areas holding stacked pallets of foam, plastic, and cardboard egg cartons and boxes. It was a large windowless, limited access structure with large open areas totaling over 58,000 square feet. A mixed construction, it included a two-story business office, the egg processing plant, storage areas, coolers, and shipping docks. It was primarily metal frame construction with metal siding and roofing on a concrete slab foundation with some areas using wood framing for the roof structure.
Captain Araguz responded to the scene from the Wharton Fire Station, approximately 20 miles from the fire scene, arriving to the front, south side main entrance 20 minutes after dispatch. Captain Araguz, Captain Juan Cano, and Firefighter Paul Maldonado advanced a line through the main entrance and along the south, interior wall to doors leading to a storage area at the Southeast corner.
Maldonado fed hose at the entry door as Captains Araguz and Cano advanced through the processing room. Araguz and Cano became separated from the hose line and then each other. Captain Cano found an exterior wall and began kicking and hitting the wall as his air supply ran out. Firefighters cut through the exterior metal wall at the location of the knocking and pulled him out. Several attempts were made to locate Captain Araguz including entering the building through the hole and cutting an additional hole in the exterior wall where Cano believed Araguz was located. Fire conditions eventually drove the rescuers back and defensive firefighting operations were initiated.
Captain Cano was transported to the Gulf Coast Medical Center where he was treated and released. Captain Araguz was recovered at 7:40 AM, the following morning. Initially transported by ambulance to the Wharton Funeral Home then taken to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office in Austin, Texas for a post-mortem examination.
Site Plan of Building Complex
Building Structure and Systems
The fire incident building was located on the property of Maxim Egg Farm, located within an unincorporated area of Wharton County. The 911 address is 580 Maxim Drive, Boling, Texas 77420.
Wharton County has no adopted fire codes, or model construction codes, and no designated Fire Marshal on staff that conducts fire safety inspections within their jurisdiction.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 101, Life Safety Code, 2009 Edition, is adopted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and is the applicable standard for fire and life safety inspections in the absence of an adopted fire code within unincorporated areas of a county by an applicable authority. All references regarding evaluation of the incident building in relation to minimum life safety requirements are based on NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, 2009 Edition.
Maxim Farm property includes 23 chicken coops known as layer barns that average 300 feet long and 50 feet wide holding between 15,000 to 25,000 chickens each. These layer barns inter-connect to a central processing building by a series of enclosed conveyor belts transporting over one million eggs daily.
The property includes integrated feed silos, water tanks, and waste management facilities. Additional areas on the property include equipment barns, shipping offices, loading docks, coolers, storage areas, and business offices.
Overall Building Description
The main processing structure was an irregularly shaped mixed construction of metal, concrete block, and wood framing on a concrete slab foundation with approximately 58,000 square feet of space. Three dry-storage rooms connected by a wide hallway lined the east side of the plant. A concrete block (CMU) wall separated the egg processing area from the East Hallway and storage rooms. Coolers were located north of the processing room with the loading docks along the west side of the structure. The loading docks were accessible from the processing room, Cooler 3, and Cooler 2. Cooler 1 was located at the north end of Dry Storage 2. A two-story building housing the business office was attached to the main processing plant at the southwest corner.
The building construction was classified as an NFPA 220, Type II-000 construction with an occupancy classification by the Life Safety Code as Industrial with sub-classification as special-purpose use. The Life Safety Code imposes no minimum construction requirements for this type of occupancy.
The predominant use of the building was to process and package fresh eggs for shipment after arriving by automated conveyor directly from a laying house adjacent to the building. The general floor plan of the building consisted of a large egg processing room, with surrounding areas used for storage of packing materials and two large drive-in coolers for holding packaged eggs prior to shipping.
Building construction consisted of a combination of steel and wood framing with a sheet metal exterior siding and roofing over a low-pitch roof on a concrete slab foundation. Structural elements within the interior of the building were exposed and unprotected with no fire-resistance rated materials applied. The load bearing structural elements consisted of steel beams, and steel pipe columns, with steel open web trusses supporting the roof structure.
Wood components were also used as part of the load bearing elements and wall framing.
Perimeter walls of the cooler compartments were constructed of concrete masonry units (CMU).
The building was not separated between other areas of use by fire-resistance rated assemblies.
Ancillary facilities located within the building used for administrative offices and other incidental spaces were constructed of wood framing with a gypsum wallboard finish.
Detailed Construction Features
The front of the structure faced to the south where the main entrance to the processing room and business offices was located approximately 4 feet above the parking lot grade level and accessed by a series of steps. The business office was a two-story wood frame construction with a vinyl exterior siding under a metal roof on a concrete slab foundation. Additional separate, single-story, wood frame structures with offices located to the west of the main business office connected by covered walkways.
The egg processing room was 141 feet along the east and west walls and approximately 100 feet along the north and south walls. The processing room received the eggs transported from the layer barns on the conveyer belt system. The room contained the processing equipment and conveyor systems where eggs were cleaned, graded, packaged and moved to large coolers to await shipment. The construction of the processing room was sheet metal panels embedded into the concrete slab foundation supported by 8-inch wide metal studs. Sheet metal panels lined the exterior and interior sides of the south and west walls with fiberglass insulation sandwiched between.
Main Processing Area
The north wall separated the processing room from Cooler 3 and consisted mainly of interlocking insulated metal panels embedded into the slab locked at the top in metal channels. Their interior surface was polyurethane laminate.
The east wall was mainly of concrete block (CMU) construction. A USDA office and a mechanics room were accessed through doors in the east wall of the processing room. The northeast corner of the processing room extended into the north end of the east hallway, forming an 18 feet by 18 feet area with wood frame construction on a concrete stem wall with fiber cement board (Hardy board) and metal panel siding. A 6-feet wide opening between the processing and dry-storage areas with a vinyl strip door allowed unrestricted access.
Along the south wall of the processing room, a walkway between the processing equipment and exterior wall led to swinging double doors at the southeast corner to enter into Dry Storage 3. Conveyors carried the eggs from the north and south layer barns through openings in the walls of the extension of the processing room. The conveyors from the north and south layer barns entered the building suspended overhead. As the conveyors approached the entrance to the main processing room, they gradually descended to 3.5 feet above floor level and were supported by metal brackets attached to the floor. Electric drive motors attached to the conveyors at several points along their lengths to power their movement.
The roof consisted of steel columns and girders with metal panel roofing attached to metal purlins supported by steel rafters. Wire mesh supported fiberglass insulation under the roof deck. The roof gable was oriented north to south.
The plant included three dry-storage rooms along the eastern side of the building connected by an east hallway. Dry Storage 1 and Dry Storage 2 were located in the northeast corner of the plant under a common sloping metal roof. The dry-storage rooms held pallets of containers including polystyrene egg crates, foam egg cartons, pulp egg cartons, and cardboard boxes.
Dry Storage 1 was approximately 123 feet long and 50 feet wide and was 4 feet below the grade of the rest of the plant. It was added to the east side of Dry Storage 2 in 2008. Dry Storage 1 was a concrete slab and 4-feet high concrete half wall topped with wood framing and metal siding. The metal roof sloped from 11 feet high above the west side to 10 feet high above the east wall. The roof attached to 2 inch x 8 inch wood joists supported by two rows of steel support columns and steel girders. The two rows of seven columns were oriented in a north-south direction.
A concrete ramp at the south end facilitated access to the East Hallway and Dry Storage 2 and the main level of the processing room. A concrete ramp at the northeast corner of Dry Storage 1 provided access to the rear loading dock. The rear dock was secured on the interior at the top of the ramp by a wood frame and metal double door with a wooden cross member and a chain and padlock. An additional wood frame and screened double door secured on the interior.
The conveyor belt from the north layer barns ran the length of the west side of Dry Storage 1 where it turned to the west, crossing Dry Storage 2 and the East Hallway into the main processing room.
Dry Storage 1 contained 29 rows of pallets, seven to eight pallets deep, of mainly Styrofoam egg crates stacked between 7 and 10 feet high, depending on their location. Corridors between the rows were maintained to provide access to the pallets with an electric forklift. Fluorescent light fixtures attached to the wood rafters in rows north to south with their conductors in PVC conduit. Skylights spaced evenly above the west side allowed for natural light. Pallets of stock material were single stacked below the locations of the light fixtures to keep clearance and prevent damage.
Dry Storage 2, located west of and 4 feet above Dry Storage 1, stored pallets of flattened cardboard box stock. The room was approximately 81 feet long and 40 feet wide. The south wall was the processing room extension and was approximately 25 feet long. The east side of the room was open to Dry Storage 1 with 4 inch x 4 inch unprotected wood studs spaced unevenly from 4 feet to 9 feet, supporting the metal roof. The west wall was CMU construction and was the exterior wall of Cooler 3. The metal roof sloped from the top of the west wall approximately 12 feet high to approximately 11 feet above the east side.
The room was accessed from the south end at the top of the ramp leading down into Dry Storage 1. Pallets of folded cardboard boxes were stacked along the entire length of the west wall extending 16 to 20 feet to the east. The rows of pallets were without spacing for corridors. One row of six fluorescent light fixtures attached to wood rafters near the north-south centerline.
The East Hallway was approximately 118 feet long and 37 feet wide running along the length of the east side of the processing room. The East Hallway connected Dry Storages 1 and 2 with Dry Storage 3 by a corridor at the south end. The East Hallway allowed access between the storage room areas and into utility rooms including the Boiler Room at the north end and a mechanics room and small utility closet. Pallets of polystyrene egg crates were stored along the east wall in rows of three pallets each. Seven pallets of polystyrene egg crates were stored along the conveyors.
The west wall was concrete block construction (CMU) until it connected to the extension of the processing area constructed of wood frame covered by Hardy board and sheet metal. The east wall was sheet metal embedded in the concrete slab supported by 2 inch x 4 inch wood studs with Hardy board interior. The metal roof sloped from a height at 12 feet at the west wall to 10 feet high at the east wall, supported by 4 inch x 6 inch wood columns and 2 inch x 8 inch wood joists.
Two conveyors entered the south end of the east hallway from Dry Storage 3. The conveyors ran parallel for approximately 80 feet along the west wall and entered the processing room through openings in the extension at the north end of the east hallway. They were 6 feet from the west wall and gradually descended from a height of 9 feet at the south end to 3.5 feet at the north. Each conveyor was 31 inches wide and combined was approximately 7 feet wide. Two compressor machines and a pressure washer were located along the west wall near the south end.
The Boiler Room, located at the northeast corner of the East Hall, housed two propane fired boilers, a water treatment system and two vacuum pumps. It was wood frame construction with metal siding under a metal roof on a combination concrete slab and concrete pier and wood beam foundation. A small utility room with service panels was constructed of concrete block on a concrete slab under a metal roof and was also located along the west wall of the East Hallway. An approximately 10 feet wide corridor connected the East Hallway to Dry Storage 3.
Dry Storage 3 extended south from the main processing room and East Hallway to the south dock area where tractor-trailers parked to unload the pallets of supplies. Two parallel conveyors suspended 9 feet overhead from the roof extended along the length of the east wall where it passed through the south wall toward the south layer houses.
The plant’s main power conductors entered the west wall of Dry Storage 3 from load centers and transformers mounted to the slab outside approximately 15 feet south of the main processing room exterior wall. Stacks of wood pallets were stored in Dry Storage 3. Corridors wide enough for forklifts provided access to the south cargo dock area.
Fire Ground Operations and Tactics
Note: The following sequence of events was developed from radio transmissions and firefighter witness statements. Those events with known times are identified. Events without known times are approximated in the sequence of the events based on firefighter statements regarding their actions and/or observations. A detailed timeline of radio transmissions is included in the appendix.
On July 3, 2010, at 21:41:10, Wharton County Sheriff’s Office 911 received a report of a fire at the Maxim Egg Farm located on County Road 442, south of the city of Boling, Texas. The caller, immediately transferred to the Wharton Police Department Dispatch, advised there was a “big fire” in the warehouse where egg cartons were stored. Boling Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched and immediately requested aid from the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department. Wharton VFD became Command as is the usual practice for this county.
Wharton Assistant Chief Stewart (1102) was returning to the station having been out on a response to a vehicle accident assisting the Boling Volunteer Fire Department when the call came in for the fire. He responded immediately and at 21:50 reported seeing “heavy fire” coming from the roof at the northeast corner of the building as he approached the plant from the east on County Road 442. When he arrived he was eventually directed to the east side of the building (D side) to the rear loading dock. Asst. Chief Stewart worked for several minutes with facility employees to gain access to the fire building before being led to the northeast loading dock.
An employee directed him on the narrow caliche drive behind the layer barns and between the waste ponds to the loading dock. Wharton Engine 1134 followed 1102 to the east side and backed into the drive leading to the loading dock. Asst. Chief Stewart’s immediate actions included assessing the extent of the fire on the interior of the building by looking through the doors at the loading dock to Dry Storage 1. Unable to see the fire through the smoke at the doors of the loading dock, an attack was eventually accomplished by removing a metal panel from the east exterior wall of Dry Storage 1 and using one 1¾”-inch cross lay. After a few minutes, the deck gun on Engine 1134 was utilized, directing water to the roof above the seat of the fire near the south end of Dry Storage 1.
Water supply became an immediate concern and 1102 made efforts to get resources for resupply. Requests for mutual aid to provide water tankers were made to area communities. During the incident, re-supplying tankers included a gravity re-fill from the on-site water supply storage tanks and from fire hydrants in the City of Boling, 3 miles from the scene and the City of Wharton, nearly 11 miles. The City of Boling water tower was nearly emptied during the incident.
The radio recording indicates there were difficulties accessing the location of the fire as apparatus were led around the complex by multiple employees. Heavy rains during the previous week left many roadways muddy and partially covered with water, which added to problems with apparatus access. In addition, fire crews were not familiar with the layout of the facility and there are no records of pre-fire plans. Asst. Chief Stewart worked for several minutes with facility employees to gain access to the fire building before being led to the northeast loading dock.
Wharton Fire Chief Bobby Barnett (1101) arrived on scene at 21:56:14, and ordered incoming apparatus to stage until he could establish an area of operations at the front, south side of the plant (A side). Chief Barnett directed Engine 1130 to position approximately 50 feet from the front main entrance of the plant. At 22:09:16, Chief Barnett (1101) established a command post on A side and became the Incident Commander; 1101 directed radio communications for the fireground to be TAC 2 and called for mutual aid from the Hungerford and El Campo Fire Departments. Chief Barnett described the conditions on side A as smoky with no fire showing. Light winds were from the east, side D, pushing the smoke toward the area of the processing room, and the front, side A, of the building.
Maxim Egg Farm Manager David Copeland, a former Wharton VFD Chief, advised Command and firefighters that the fire was in the area of the Boiler Room and should be accessed by breaching an exterior wall in the employee break area. Chief Barnett ordered Wharton crews to the breach attempt. Captain Thomas Araguz III, Captain John Cano and Firefighter Paul Maldonado were involved with this operation. The crews working in this area were in full structural personnel protective clothing and SCBA.
At 22:10, Command ordered Engine 1130 and Tanker 1160 to set up at the front entrance using Tanker 1160 for portable dump tank operations for water re-supply.
On D side, difficulty accessing the fire from the exterior of the building was reported by Asst. Chief Stewart and the crews. Heavy doors, locked loading dock doors and steel exterior paneling, required the crews to spend extra time forcing entry.
At 22:17:23, Wharton County Chief Deputy Bill Copeland (3122), once a Wharton FD volunteer firefighter, notified Command that the fire was now through the roof over Dry Storage 1.
Chief Barnett noticed smoke conditions improving at the main plant doorway and ordered crews to advance lines into the processor room. Chief Barnett stated he assigned Captain Araguz, Captain Cano and Firefighter Maldonado because they were the most experienced and senior crews available.
Positive Pressure Ventilation (PPV) was in place at the main entry door when Captain Cano, Captain Araguz and Firefighter Maldonado entered the structure into the processing room. There are no radio transmissions to verify exact entry times.
Captain Cano stated that an employee had to assist fire crews with entry into the main plant through a door with keypad access. Captain Cano reported the door to processing was held open by a three-ring binder that he jammed under the door after entry. Cano stated there was low visibility and moderate heat overhead. Captain Cano and Captain Araguz made entry on a right-hand wall working their way around numerous obstacles. The line was not yet charged and they returned to the doorway and waited for water. Wharton Engine 1130’s driver reported in his interview that he had difficulty establishing a draft from the portable tank later determined to be a linkage failure on the priming pump. 1160 connected directly to 1130 and drafted from the folding tank.
As the crew entered into the structure through the main entry door, several plant employees began entering into the administration offices through the area of the main entry door to remove files and records. This was reported to Command at 22:23 and after several minutes Chief Barnett ordered employees to stay out of the building and requested assistance from the Sheriff’s Office to maintain scene security.
At 22:31, once the line was charged, the two captains continued into the processor on the right wall leaving Maldonado at the doorway to feed hose. Captain Cano was first with the nozzle and described making it 20 feet into the building.
Cano states in his interview that he advised Command over the radio that there was high heat and low visibility, although the transmission is not recorded. Cano also reported in his interview, he could not walk through the area and had to use a modified duck walk. Cano projected short streams of water towards the ceiling in a “penciling” motion and noted no change in heat or smoke conditions. They advanced until the heat became too great and they retreated towards the center of the processor. Cano stated that they discussed their next tactic and decided to try a left-handed advance.
At 22:33, Chief Barnett advised, “advancing hose streams in main building to try to block it.”
Captain Araguz took the nozzle and Captain Cano advanced with him holding onto Araguz’ bunker gear. The crew advanced along the south wall of the processing room toward the double doors to Dry Storage 3 and lost contact with the hose line.
The investigation found the couplings between the first and second sections of the hose lodged against a threaded floor anchor (see photo) preventing further advancement of the line. How the team lost the hose line remains uncertain.
Captain Cano stated in his interview that Captain Araguz told him to call a Mayday. Captain Cano stated that he was at first confused by the request, but after some time it became apparent they lost the hose line. Captain Cano reported calling Mayday on the radio but never received a reply. Captain Cano now believes he may have inadvertently switched channels at his previous transmission reporting interior conditions. Captain Araguz had a radio but it was too damaged to determine operability. There are no recorded transmissions from Captain Araguz.
At 22:37, Deputy Chief Copeland advised Command that the fire had breached a brick wall and was entering the main packing plant. Command responded that there was a hose team inside.
At 22:42:50, Command radioed “Command to hose team 1, Cano.” This was the first of several attempts to contact Captain Cano and Captain Araguz. At 22:47:17, Command ordered Engine 1130 to sound the evacuation horn. At 22:50:44, Command announced Mayday over the radio, stating “unlocated fireman in the building.”
Captain Cano stated in his interview that they made several large circles in an attempt to locate the fire hose.
Cano became entangled in wiring, requiring him to doff his SCBA.
After re-donning his SCBA, Captain Cano noted he lost his radio, but found a flash light. He remembered that his low air warning was sounding as he and Araguz searched for the hose. Cano stated that they made it to an exterior wall and decided to attempt to breach the wall. Working in near zero visibility,
Captain Cano reported losing contact with Captain Araguz while working on breaching the wall.
Shortly after he lost contact, Captain Cano ran out of air and removed his mask. Captain Cano continued working to breach the exterior wall until he was exhausted.
At 22:54, crews working on the exterior of the building near the employee break area reported hearing tapping on the wall in the area of the employee break room.
Crews mustered tools and began to cut additional holes through the building exterior.
After making two openings, Captain Cano was located and removed from the building.
Captain Cano reported that Captain Araguz was approximately 15 feet inside of the building ahead of him.
Firefighters made entry through the exterior hole but were unsuccessful in locating Captain Araguz. Cano was escorted to the folding water tank and got into the tank to cool down.
Rapid Intervention Crews (RIC) were established using mutual aid members from the Hungerford and El Campo Fire Departments. The first entry made was at the main entry door where Firefighter Maldonado was located. Maldonado was relieved and escorted to the ambulance for rehab. An evacuation horn sounded and the first RIC abandoned the interior search and exited the building.
A rescue entry by a second RIC was through the breached wall of Dry Storage 3. After several minutes inside, the evacuation signal sounded due to the rapidly spreading fire and deteriorating conditions. Two additional RICs entered the structure through the loading dock doors of Dry Storage 3. Chief Barnett states that there were a total of four RICs that made entry after the Mayday. After approximately 45 minutes, all rescue attempts ceased.
As the fire extended south toward Dry Storage 3, smoke conditions became so debilitating that Chief Barnett ordered all crews staged near the front of the building on side A to move back and apparatus to relocate. Command assigned Chief Hafer of the Richmond Fire Department to “A” side operations and defensive operations were established. Captain Cano and Firefighter Maldonado were transported to Gulf Coast Medical Center and treated for smoke inhalation.
Fire ground operations continued through the night. Captain Araguz was recovered at approximately
07:40 AM. Command transferred to the Richmond Fire Department Chief Hafer at approximately
07:56 AM as 1101 and the Wharton units escorted Captain Araguz from the scene. All Wharton units cleared the scene at 08:02 AM.
Captain Araguz was transported to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy. The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office performed post mortem examinations on July 4, 2010. Captain Araguz died from thermal injuries and smoke inhalation.
Findings and Recommendations
Recommendations are based upon nationally recognized consensus standards and safety practices for the fire service.
All fire department personnel should know and understand nationally recognized consensus standards, and all fire departments should create and maintain SOGs and SOPs to ensure effective, efficient, and safe firefighting operations.
There were several factors that, when combined, may have contributed to the death of Captain Araguz. It is important that we honor him by learning from the incident.
Water supply became an immediate concern.
Although there are two water storage tanks on the facility with the combined capacity of nearly 44,000 gallons, refilling operations to tankers were slow, accomplished by gravity fill through a 5-inch connection.
A fire department connection attached to the plant’s main water supply pump and plant personnel familiar with the system could have sped up the refilling process at the plant.
Most tankers were sent to hydrants in the City of Boling 3 miles away, which in turn quickly depleted the city water supply.
Other tanker refilling was accomplished at hydrants on the City of Wharton water system, as far as 15 miles away.
Fire protection systems are not required by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 101, Life Safety Code, 2009 Edition for this classification of facility. Fire sprinkler and smoke control systems may have contained the fire to one area, preventing the spread of fire throughout the plant.
Findings and recommendations from this investigation include:
There were no lives to save in the building. An inadequate water supply, lack of fire protection systems in the structure to assist in controlling the spread of the smoke and fire, and the heavy fire near the windward side facilitated smoke and fire spread further into the interior and toward “A” side operations. Along with the size of the building, the large fuel load, and the time period from fire discovery, interior firefighters were at increased risk.
Recommendation: Fire departments should develop Standard Operating Guidelines and conduct training involving risk management and risk benefit analysis during an incident according to Incident Management principles required by NFPA 1500 and 1561.
The concept of risk management shall be utilized on the basis of the following principles:
(a) Activities that present a significant risk to the safety of personnel shall be limited to situations where there is a potential to save endangered lives
(b) Activities that are routinely employed to protect property shall be recognized as inherent risks to the safety of personnel, and actions shall be taken to reduce or avoid these risks.
(c) No risk to the safety of personnel shall be acceptable where there is no possibility to save lives or property.
(d) In situations where the risk to fire department members is excessive, activities shall be limited to defensive operations. NFPA 1500 Chapter 8, 8.3.2
NFPA 1500 ‘Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program’, 2007 ed., and NFPA 1561’Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System’, 2008 ed. Texas Commission on Fire Protection Standards Manual, Chapter 435, Section 435.15
(b) The Standard operating procedure shall:
(1) Specify an adequate number of personnel to safely conduct emergency scene operations;
(2) limit operations to those that can be safely performed by personnel at the scene;
Initial crews failed to perform a 360-degree scene size-up and did not secure the utilities before operations began.
Recommendation: Fire departments should develop Standard Operating Guidelines that require crews to perform a complete scene size-up before beginning operations. A thorough size up will provide a good base for deciding tactics and operations. It provides the IC and on-scene personnel with a general understanding of fire conditions, building construction, and other special considerations such as weather, utilities, and exposures. Without a complete and accurate scene size-up, departments will have difficulty coordinating firefighting efforts.
Fireground Support Operations 1st Edition, IFSTA, Chapter 10 Fundamentals of Firefighting Skills,
NFPA/IAFC, 2004, Chapter 2
The Incident Commander failed to maintain an adequate span of control for the type of incident. Safety, personnel accountability, staging of resources, and firefighting operations require additional supervision for the scope of incident. Radio recordings and interview statements indicate the IC performing several functions including: Command, Safety, Staging, Division A Operations, Interior Operations and Scene Security.
Recommendation: Incident Commanders should maintain an appropriate span of control and assign additional personnel to the command structure as needed. Supervisors must be able to adequately supervise and control their subordinates, as well as communicate with and manage all resources under their supervision. In ICS, the span of control of any individual with incident management supervisory responsibility should range from three to seven subordinates, with five being optimal. The type of incident, nature of the tasks, hazards and safety factors, and distances between personnel and resources all influence span-of-control considerations.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Federal Emergency Management Agency Incident Command Systems http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/ICSpopup.htm#item5 NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter 8, 2007 ed.
The interior fire team advanced into the building prior to the establishment of a rapid intervention crew (RIC).
Recommendation: Fire Departments should develop written procedures that comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Final Rule, 29 CFR Section 1910.134 (g) (4) requiring at least two fire protection personnel to remain located outside the IDLH (Immediate Danger to Life or Health) atmosphere to perform rescue of the fire protection personnel inside the IDLH atmosphere. One of the outside fire protection personnel must actively monitor the status of the inside fire protection personnel and not be assigned other duties. NFPA 1500 8.8.7 At least one dedicated RIC shall be standing by with equipment to provide for the rescue of members that are performing special operations or for members that are in positions that present an immediate danger of injury in the event of equipment failure or collapse.
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Respiratory Protection Standard, CFR 1910.134 (g) (4); Texas Commission on Fire Protection Standards §435.17 – Procedures for Interior Structure Fire Fighting (2-in/2-out rule) NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter 8, 2007 ed. NFPA 1720 Standard on Organization and Deployment Fire Suppression Operations by Volunteer Fire Departments, 2004 ed.
The interior team and Incident Commander did not verify the correct operation of communications equipment before entering the IDLH atmosphere and subsequently did not maintain communications between the interior crew and Command. Although Chief Barnett stated he communicated with Captain Cano, there was no contact with Captain Araguz.
Recommendation: Fire Departments should develop written policies requiring the verification of the correct operations of communications equipment of each firefighter before crews enter an IDLH atmosphere. Fire Departments should also include training for their members on the operation of communications equipment in zero visibility conditions.
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Respiratory Protection Standard, CFR 1910.134(g)(3)(ii) NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter 8, 2007 ed.
The interior operating crew did not practice effective air management techniques for the size and complexity of the structure. Interviews indicate the crew expended breathing air while attempting to breach an exterior wall for approximately 10 minutes, then advanced a hose line into a 15,000 square feet room without monitoring their air supply. During interviews Captain Cano estimated his consumption limit at 15 – 20 minutes on a 45 minute SCBA.
Recommendation: Crews operating in IDLH atmospheres must monitor their air consumption rates and allot for sufficient evacuation time. Known as the point of no return, it is that time at which the remaining operation time of the SCBA is equal to the time necessary to return safely to a non-hazardous atmosphere. The three basic elements to effective air management are:
Know your point of no return (beyond 50 percent of the air supply of the team member with the lowest gauge reading).
Know how much air you have at all times.
Make a conscious decision to stay or leave when your air is down to 50 percent.
IFSTA . Essentials of Fire Fighting and Fire Department Operations, 5th ed., Chapter 5, Air Management, page 189 Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills, 2nd edition, NFPA and International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chapter 17, Fire Fighter Survival.
Captains Araguz and Cano became separated from their hoseline. While it is unclear as to the reason they became separated from the hose line, interviews with Captain Cano indicate that while he was finding an exterior wall and took actions to alert the exterior by banging and kicking the wall, he lost contact with Captain Araguz.
**Captain Cano credits his survival to the actions he learned from recent Mayday, Firefighter Safety training.
Recommendation: Maintaining contact with the hose line is critical. Losing contact with the hose line meant leaving the only lifeline and pathway to safety. Team integrity provides an increased chance for survival. All firefighters should become familiar with and receive training on techniques for survival and self-rescue.
United States Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy training course “Firefighter Safety: Calling the Mayday” Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills, 2nd edition, NFPA and International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chapter 17, Fire Fighter Survival.
Additional References Related to Surviving the Mayday and RIT operations from 2011 Safety Week at CommandSafety.com;
This year’s Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week focused on Surviving the Fire Ground: Fire Fighter, Fire Officer and Command Preparedness. One of the major objectives of this year’s theme was addressing a variety of functional areas for the Mayday event. For many of you, the conditions, outcome and lessons learned from the Southwest Supermarket Fire, maydays and the Line of Duty Death of Phoenix (AZ) firefighter Bret Tarver in 2001 are as fresh today as they were ten years ago and certainly as relevant as when many of us first read the Final Report issued by the Phoenix FD.
However, to many others in the Fire Service the Bret Tarver LODD and the Southwest Supermarket fire along with the lessons learned that were identified and the research that was instituted may not have made it onto your radar screen. In this the final days of the 2011 Fire/EMS Safety week, it is very appropriate to provide some insights on this mayday event and more importantly provide you with the opportunty to learn from the past, to understand operational parameters, capabilites, fallacies, misconceptions and limitations when we talk about Mayday, RIT and FAST activities and operational deployments.
Here’s an overview of the event;
On March 14, 2001 the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department lost firefighter Brett Tarver at the Southwest Supermarket fire.
In that event, it was 5:00 in the afternoon, the grocery store was full of people and fire was extending through the building. Phoenix E14 was assigned to the interior of the structure to complete the search, get any people out, and attempt to confine the rapidly spreading fire to the rear of the structure. Shortly after completing their primary search of the building the Captain decided it was time to get out. Tarver and the other members of Engine 14 were exiting the building when Tarver and his partner got lost.
The engineer (driver) was leading the group following the attack line they had brought into the supermarket fire, followed by Tarver and his partner, with the company officer being the last person to begin the long crawl out of the smoke filled structure. At some point Tarver and his partner got off the hose line and moved deeper in the supermarket fire away from their only exit. Early on during the exit attempt through maze like conditions Tarver and his partner basically turned left instead of right. Not knowing this the company officer continued to crawl out of the building thinking his whole crew was ahead of him on the attack line. Tarver and his partner crawled deeper into the fire occupancy eventually ending up in the butcher shop area where they eventually became separated.
Based on radio reports of deteriorating conditions inside the building from E14 and other companies the Incident Commander (IC) considered a switch to a defensive strategy and started the process of pulling all crews out of the structure. During this process Tarver radioed the IC telling him that he was lost in the back of the building. The IC deployed two companies as Rapid Intervention Crews (RICs) through the front access point to no avail.
Other companies coming to their rescue through the back room area of the supermarket later rescued Tarver’s partner. After several unsuccessful rescue attempts, Tarver succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from the acrid smoke and was eventually removed from the building as a full code. Trying to remove the 260-pound firefighter was nearly impossible for rescue team members. Outside, the resuscitation efforts failed.
During the rescue efforts there were more than twelve (12) mayday’s issued by firefighters trying to make the rescue. On this tragic day, one other firefighter (attempting to rescue Tarver) was removed in respiratory arrest and was later resuscitated by fire department paramedics on the scene.
Over the next year (The Recovery), the department systematically reviewed its standard operating procedures and fireground operational activities at the strategic (command), tactical (sector) and task (company) levels of the entire organization in an attempt to prevent such a tragic event from ever happening again to the Phoenix Fire Department. One of the many significant questions that was asked was why didn’t the rapid intervention concept work? Immediately after the fire the Phoenix Fire Department reviewed its Rapid Intervention and Mayday standard operating procedures (SOPs). Based on drills, training and the data acquired through those drills, in the year following the incident the standard concept of a rapid intervention is now being challenged.
In the wake of the 2001 Southwest Supermarket Fire and LODD of FF Brett Tarver, the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department issued a comprehensive report of the incident and the lessons learned and research conducted by the FD.
Beyond 2011 Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week; Fire Fighter, Fire Officer and Command Training and Preparedness
If you have never heard about the Southwest Supermarket Fire and the Bret Tarver LODD and incident and never read the report;
take the time to do so and understand that the concepts of RIT and FAST are made up of far more elements, considerations and more importantly realities of what you think you can do versus what you may actually be able to do.
if you’ve read it in the [past], take a few minutes to review and refresh;
see where your organization, department and RIT/FAST training and capabilities are today-
what are the capabilities of your fire fighters, officers and commanders?
Take a look at the NIOSH report and the recommendations contained; how does your deparment stack up today?
After reading the reports, take a close look at your organization, your personnel and your training and your capabilities and
ask yourself if you are truly able to perform the necessary RIT/FAST operations or
do you have a ways to go to better prepare, train and ensure you’re able to undertake the job and address the fireground survival needs when a mayday is called.
did you take the time during this safety week to make some progress, identify some new insights, gaps or renewed interests and desire to enhance on your capabilities and strengths?
Are your Mayday, RIT and FAST capabilites, skills and knowledge better today in 2011 than they were in 2001?
Rapid Intervention Team: Are You Ready? Mar 1, 2007 FireEngineering.com By Robert L. Gray; HERE If you were assigned to be a member of a rapid intervention team (RIT) during your next structure fire-or had to command a fireground rescue as a chief officer-are you confident that you would be up to the task of successfully responding to a firefighter Mayday?
The following is an article piece posted by my good friend Mike Ward and posted a number of years ago from www.thewatchdesk.com written by: Mike Ward
Rapid Intervention Reality – from Phoenix
Subject: Rapid Intervention Reality Check By Michael Ward
The Phoenix Fire Department’s Deployment Committee has a sobering message to their firefighters operating in large buildings, like a 7,500 square foot warehouse: “If you extend an attack line 150′, get 40 feet off the line and then run out of air, it will take us 22 minutes to get you out of the structure.” The lesson to remember is not to get off the fire attack line. The statement is based on 200 rapid intervention drills conducted by PFD as part of their recovery process after Firefighter/paramedic Brett Tarver died in the March 14, 2001 Southwest Supermarket fire.
PFD obtained three vacant commercial buildings: a warehouse, a movie theatre and a country-western bar. The RIT drill was for the first alarm companies to respond to a report of two firefighters in trouble. One is disoriented and the other one is unconscious. The buildings were sealed from outside light and the facemasks were obscured to simulate heavy smoke conditions. The RIT teams were equipped and deployed as if this is was a working fire. The department ran through about 200 RIT drills with 1144 PFD firefighters participating. Their activities were monitored and timed. An Arizona State University statistician analyzed the data.
The results show that rapid intervention is not rapid:
Rescue crew ready state 2.50 minutes
Mayday to RIC entry 3.03 minutes
RIC contact with downed firefighter 5.82 minutes
Total time inside building for each RIC team 12.33 minutes
Total time for rescue 21 minutes
The evolutions also revealed three consistent ratios:
It takes 12 firefighters to rescue one
One in five RIC members will get into some type of trouble themselves.
A 3000-psi SCBA bottle has 18.7 minutes of air (plus or minus 30%)
The results of the RIC drills reflects the experience Phoenix had during the efforts to rescue Firefighter/paramedic Brett Tarver. There were a dozen maydays sounded during the rescue effort, and one PFD firefighter was removed from the supermarket in respiratory arrest.
The Phoenix experience is not unique. Houston Fire Chief Chris Connealy participated in a discussion about the Phoenix RIC drills during the 2003 Change in the Fire Service Symposium. On October 13, 2001, Houston Engine 2 Captain Jay Jahnke died on the fifth floor of Four Leaf Towers, a 41 story residential high-rise. During the Houston RIC operation, two heavy rescue company firefighters became disoriented, low on air and had to rescue themselves. An engine company captain and firefighter run out of air and collapsed on the fire floor. Chief Connealy said that the Houston experience is similar to Phoenix.
Phoenix is changing its approach to rapid intervention crews in three procedural ways: increase suppression units assigned to RIC, increased in command officers, and considering a two-part RIC process.
There is a scalar approach to RIC dispatch assignments in Phoenix. For a “3-1 Assignment” (three engines and one ladder), a fourth engine and an ems transport (rescue) is added to the assignment to function as the rapid intervention team. For a 1st alarm assignment, two engines, one ladder, one rescue and a battalion chief are the RIC team. A second alarm includes an additional two engines and ladder for RIC. Beyond a second alarm, the incident commander can call additional companies as needed.
The recovery process also looked at the utilization of company and command officers on the fireground. A company officer core competency is to command a fire company. A core chief officer competency is to command fire companies. It is a function of the fire department hierarchical structure, not of personality. For example, a captain filling-in as a battalion chief does a better job as a West Sector officer than she would have if she was commanding Engine 2 AND in charge of West Sector. At the sector level of the incident management system, company officers are required to wear two hats. There are too many levels of tasks. Phoenix suggests that it would be more effective to send more command officers to a fire event to function as sector and division commanders and allow the company officers to command their companies. It is a waste of talent and experience to allow command officers to stay in their fire stations while a low-frequency, high risk event like a structure fire is occurring
in the city.
A third change in rapid intervention crews is using a two-phase approach. Many of the RIC team members ran out of air during the training evolutions. The drills showed that a 3000-psi SCBA bottle was good for 13.09 to 24.31 minutes of air. The average SCBA time was 18.7 minutes. The average time from mayday to removal was 21 minutes. RIC teams were running out of air during the firefighter removal phase. In addition, it was taking a crew of 12 firefighters to remove one firefighter. Phase one of a RIC response is to send a team in to locate the firefighters in trouble. Once located, a second RIC team enters to remove the firefighter.
You are welcome to share this with everyone. Please include the following: taken from www.thewatchdesk.com written by:
Michael Ward, Fire Science Program Head, Northern Virginia Community College.
We’ve got a whole lot of resources, links and daily commentary and articles that were posted on each day of SAfety Week over atCommandSafety.com
If you didn’t have a look and read, take some time to do so. If you didn’t do anything during Safety Week, there’s always next week or the week after… find the time and commit to some training, insights, dialog, discussion…Get Prepared.
More details emerged Monday about last week’s fatal Diamond Heights blaze, as fire officials said an emergency alert accidentally went off on a nearby fire engine about the same time two firefighters’ personal alarms sounded inside the burning building according to published reports.
Lt. Vincent Perez, 48, and firefighter-paramedic Anthony Valerio, 53, of Engine Company 26 both died from injuries they suffered while battling a blaze at a four-story home at 133 Berkeley Way on Thursday morning.
While fighting the fire, one or both of Valerio and Perez’s personal alert safety system devices went off. Around the same time, a firefighter on Engine Company 20 — which had yet to arrive on the scene — had inadvertently hit the emergency button on the engine.
Memorial planned for fallen firefighters Friday: Link and Details HERE
A joint funeral for fire Lt. Vincent Perez and firefighter-paramedic Anthony Valerio will be held at 12:30 p.m. Friday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1111 Gough St. in San Francisco. A vigil for the two men will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, also at St. Mary’s.
San Francisco Fire Fighters Local 798 has established trust accounts at the San Francisco Fire Credit Union for the families of Perez and Valerio. Donations can be made to SFFCU, 3201 California St., San Francisco, CA 94118.
Condolence messages can be sent to Fire Station 26, 80 Digby St., San Francisco, CA 94131.
It’s being reported that San Francisco Fire Fighter Anthony Valerio passed away this morning as a result of injuries sustained while operating the Diamond Heights fire on Thursday June 2nd. This becomes the second line of duty death from this incident that also resulted in the LODD of Lt. Vincent Perez. Anthony “Tony” Valerio, a 53-year-old firefighter and paramedic critically injured in the Thursday blaze, died at San Francisco General Hospital at about 7:40 a.m., city officials said.
San Francisco firefighter Anthony Valerio is the second firefighter to die from Thursday’s Diamond Heights fire. According to San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, Valerio had “significant damage to his respiratory system” and burns across his body after Thursday’s fire. Valerio has burns to 12 percent of his body.
WKGO TV ABC7 reports that according to San Francisco Fire Deputy Chief Mike Gardner said most of Fire Fighter Valerio’s burns were from steam and not from fire, adding that the temperature inside the structure was between 500 and 700 degrees.
San Francisco’s fire chief says this is the first time in her 21 years with the department that two firefighters have died in the same fire.
Slowly and silently, Valerio’s body was wheeled to an awaiting van; the silence finally broken by the rain and his family’s tears. The pain hung in the air outside San Francisco General Hospital – a place that became a gathering spot for the hopeful. Valerio’s family and friends had been there around the clock since Thursday. Valerio and Perez were rushed to the hospital after the two were found unresponsive inside a burning house in Diamond Heights – a sudden blast knocked them down. Perez died late Thursday. From Reports published by WKGO-TV ABC 7 ; “It is particularly difficult, you’re mourning the loss of one and then to have another one very close from the same fire is challenging,” said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
Saturday was the first time Valerio’s doctors gave details about the uphill battle the 53-year-old faced – including the fact that he was in cardiac arrest the moment he arrived at SF General.
“Between all the injuries he had from the initial blast, the smoke inhalation, the fact that he had a really bad lung injury, which was precipitated by what happened on the scene, but we try to do everything we can,” said SF General Hospital Dr. Andre Campbell.
But in the end it wasn’t enough. On this day, the firefighter’s two families, his work family at Station 26 and his immediate family – realized Valerio’s 40 hour long fight to survive was over.
The fire department and the families have agreed to have a joint funeral for both Tony Valerio and Lt. Perez on Friday at Saint Mary’s Cathedral.
Coincidentially, we posted a remembrance to the DCFD Cherry Road Townhouse Fire and Double FireFighter LODD from May, 1999 that is worth another look as it has similar connotations related to fire behavior, flashover conditions and multiple floor level construction factors during initial fire suppression operations, HERE
When was the last time you looked at the Initiatives?
Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.
Enhance the personal and organizational accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.
Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with incident management at all levels, including strategic, tactical, and planning responsibilities.
All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices.
Develop and implement national standards for training, qualifications, and certification (including regular recertification) that are equally applicable to all firefighters based on the duties they are expected to perform.
Develop and implement national medical and physical fitness standards that are equally applicable to all firefighters, based on the duties they are expected to perform.
Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives.
Utilize available technology wherever it can produce higher levels of health and safety.
Thoroughly investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries, and near misses.
Grant programs should support the implementation of safe practices and/or mandate safe practices as an eligibility requirement.
National standards for emergency response policies and procedures should be developed and championed.
National protocols for response to violent incidents should be developed and championed.
Firefighters and their families must have access to counseling and psychological support.
Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.
Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.
Safety must be a primary consideration in the design of apparatus and equipment.
The Following links From the NFFF/Everyone Goes Home web site, HERE
The Colerain Township (OH) Fire and EMS Department under the leadership of Director and Chief G. Bruce Smith released its final report Investigation Analysis of the Squirrels nest Lane Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths related to the April 4, 2008 Double Line of Duty Death of a Captain and Firefighter in April 2010 coinciding with the two year anniversary of the event.
This investigative analysis and report, although specific to the events and conditions encountered during the conduct of operation at the residential occupancy at 5708 Squirrelsnest Lane has pertinent and relevant insights, recommendations and factors that all Fire Service personnel, regardless of rank should read.
I recently lectured on this incident and the lessons learned at a regional seminar on occupancy profiling and tactical operations, which resulted in significant discussions and dialog pertaining not only to this event but also to the adverse trend and series of incidents reported nationally in the later part of 2010 and early into 2011 related to comprised or collapsed floor systems and a number of firefighter close calls. There continues to be a number of prevailing philosphies and points of view related to the level of fire ground aggressiveness, tactical patience and level of preparedness demanded on today’s fire ground. I’ve previously posted some insights on these events and these points of view on our Commandsafety.com site and other eMedia sites.
There still appears to be so much that needs to said; lectured, taught, reinforced or just plain introduced to get company and command officers “insightful” into the operational issues affecting modern fire suppression theory, methodologies, operational safety at basement fires or lower elevation fires, compromise and collapse situational awareness, being combat ready during the response and into arrival sequencing and being able to read the building and fire more effectively and accurately.
I recently had the honor to facilitated an insightful radio program on Taking it to the Streets related to a close-call resulting from a catastrophic and complete floor system collapse in a residential occpancy(HERE) during fire suppression operations and the lessons learned and insights from that event and its recording in the National Firefigher Near Miss Reporting System. Take the time to read about the event ( NMR Report #10-1072) or download the program.
There are tremendous lessons to be shared and learned from the Colerain Township incident, and its one of the required readings that all command and company officers should have on their radar screen (see Commandsafety.com, HERE)
This is one of those distinctive reports that has influential and critical operational, training and preparedness elements embedded throughout the report. Following my review of the report, having previously read the preliminary report findings, it is apparent there continues to be common threads shared by this and other events and incidents where a single of multiple firefighters have lost their lives due to similarities in the apparent and common cause deficiencies and short comings identified.
All company and command officers should read and comprehend the lessons learned. Then, take these new found insights and see what the gaps are at the personal level (yours or those you supervise) as well as the shift, group, station, battalion, division or department as a whole.
If there are gaps, then identify a way to implement timely changes as necessary so there are No History Repeating (HRE) events. Learn from these events….
Thank you to the firefighters, officers and leadership of the Colerain Township (OH) Fire and EMS Department for the comprehensive insights that this report provides and towards the promise that these lessons-learned may one day help a firefighter, crew, company or fire ground in their combat engagement and mission. Do not take any run or response for granted; be combat ready at all levels.
I have provided a comprehensive synopsis of the report for your review. Take the time to read the entire report, make the time to improve where you need to.
On Friday, April 4, 2008 at 06:13:02 hours, what began as a routine response for Colerain Township Fire and EMS Engine 102 to investigate a fire alarm activation at 5708 Squirrels nest Lane, Colerain Township, Ohio resulted in the deaths of Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira.
Upon their arrival at the scene of the two-story wood framed, residential building working fire conditions existed in the basement. The initial attack team consisted of Broxterman, Schira, and one other firefighter. The team advanced a 1¾-inch attack hose line through the interior of the building for fire control.
Even though, they were provided with some of the most technologically advanced protective clothing for structural firefighting and self-contained breathing apparatus, it appeared that Broxterman and Schira were overwhelmed by severe fire conditions in the basement.
During their attempt to evacuate the building, the main-level family room flooring system in which the two were traveling on collapsed into the basement trapping the firefighters. Eleven minutes elapsed from time of arrival to the catastrophic chain of events.
The investigation of this incident provided a number of findings and recommendations that should be considered by Colerain’s fire department, as well as other fire department organizations. The examination encompassed issues that related to building construction, firefighting tactics, command and control, situational awareness, communications, training, firefighting equipment and the individual responsibility of firefighters of the Colerain Township Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (Colerain Fire & EMS). In addition, a segment of the examination included a review of the individual and group affects following such an event, and the measures initiated that attempted to ensure individual, family and organizational wellness.
The following factors were believed to have directly contributed to the deaths of Captain Broxterman and Firefighter Schira:
A delayed arrival at the incident scene that allowed the fire to progress significantly;
A failure to adhere to fundamental firefighting practices; and
A failure to abide by fundamental firefighter self-rescue and survival concepts
Although the aforementioned factors were believed to have directly contributed to their deaths, they might have been prevented if:
Some personnel had not been complacent or apathetic in their initial approach to this incident;
Some personnel were in a proper state of mind that made them more observant of their surroundings and indicators;
The initial responding units were provided with all pertinent information in a
timely manner relative to the incident;
Personnel assigned to Engine 102 possessed a comprehensive knowledge of their first-due response area;
A 360-degree size-up of the building accompanied by a risk – benefit analysis
was conducted by the company officer prior to initiating interior fire suppression operations;
Comprehensive standard operating guidelines specifically related to structural
firefighting existed within the department;
The communications system users (on-scene firefighters and those monitoring the incident) weren’t all vying for limited radio air time;
The communications equipment and accessories utilized were more appropriate for the firefighting environment;
Certain tactical-level decisions and actions were based on the specific conditions;
Personnel had initiated fundamental measures to engage in if they were to become disoriented or trapped inside a burning building; and
Issued personal protective equipment was utilized in the correct manner.
On Friday, April 4, 2008, at 06:11:23, the Hamilton County Communications Center (HCCC) received notification of an automatic alarm activation (smoke detector and carbon monoxide) at 5708 Squirrels nest Lane (LN).
An automatic fire alarm response complement of two engine companies (Engines 102 & 109), one ladder company (Ladder 25), and the Battalion Chief (District 25) were dispatched to investigate at 06:13:02.
At 06:13:43, a second notification was received from the female homeowner reporting a fire in the basement of the building.
At 06:20:43, a third notification by means of a cellular phone from the female homeowner to HCCC routed through the City of Cincinnati’s Fire and Police Communications Center was received.
At 06:22:41, the initial response complement was then upgraded to a building fire, also known as a structure fire response complement to include one additional engine company (Engine 25), one rescue company (Rescue 26), and one basic life support transport unit (Squad 25).
Property and Building Description: The building at 5708 Squirrels nest LN was a single-family residence that set back approximately 450-feet from the street at the end of a private driveway on a heavily wooded lot.
The building was two-stories in height, approximately 45-feet wide by 30-feet deep with a finished below-grade (basement) living space and attached two-car garage.
For simplicity, the report refers to the living space under the main-level of the building as a basement.
From the front (side Alpha), the building was two-stories above grade. The vertical distance between floors was approximately eight-feet. The exterior main entrance was located in the front middle of the building approximately one-foot above grade level.
Additional entrances to the first-floor living space were by means of a rear entry door from an upper-level deck area and through the garage area.
The interior stairway to the basement was located approximately 15-feet from the front main entry door towards the rear of the building. There were no exposed buildings on the adjacent sides of the fire building.
The building was located approximately 450-feet from the curb and a driveway leading to the front entrance. The nearest fire hydrant was located approximately 500- feet from the front entrance. To provide for uniform identification of locations and operationalforces at the incident scene, the scene was divided geographically into smaller parts, which were designated as sectors. Specific areas of the incident scene were designated as follows:
The side of the building that bears the postal address of the location was designated as Side Alpha or front by the Incident Commander;
The property sloped downward towards the rear (side Charlie) of the building with an approximate 13-foot elevation difference from side Alpha to Charlie. The
Charlie side of the building was three-stories above the rear grade level with the building’s basement floor approximately five-feet above grade level. The exterior entrance to the building’s’ basement area, also known as a walk-out was by means of a stairway that led to a wooden deck on the Charlie side adjacent to the Delta side. A second stairway led to an upper level deck that served the main level of the building.
Initial Fire Attack Operation: Upon arrival at the incident address, Engine 102 (E102), assigned four personnel (one captain, one fire apparatus operator [FAO], and two firefighters) entered and proceeded down the driveway deploying a five-inch supply hose line.
With their apparatus positioned in front of the building Captain (Capt.) Broxterman radioed, “Moderate smoke showing. E102 will be Squirrelsnest Command.” at 06:24:01.
Verification was made by the E102’s FAO through face-to-face communication with the male homeowner that all occupants were out of the building, which was then relayed to Capt. Broxterman.
District 25 (D25) arrived at the scene at 06:26:35 and assumed Command from Capt. Broxterman. Capt. Broxterman, Firefighter (Ffr.) Schira and E102’s Ffr. #2 advanced a 1¾-inch pre-connected hose line through the front main entrance. The fire was determined to be located in the basement of the building.
At 06:27:52, Capt. Broxterman radioed, “E102 making entry into the basement, heavy smoke”.
At 06:30:35, E109′s captain radioed, “Command from E109, contact 102,have them pull out of the first floor, redeploy to the back. It’s easy access. Conditions are changing at the front door.”
At 06:34:48, Engine 25 (E25), the designated Rapid Assistance Team, had just completed their 360-degree size-up around the building, and encountered E102’s Ffr. #2 in front of the building, whom reported that he had lost contact with his crew.
During the time period between 06:29:24 and 06:34:48, the investigation committee believed that one or more catastrophic events occurred including a failure of the main-level flooring system near the Beta – Charlie corner of the building.
Rescue and Recovery Operations
At 06:35:34, the Incident Commander (IC) identified a potential Mayday operation, which indicates a life threatening situation to a firefighter.
RAT25 was deployed at 06:36:48. The actual Mayday operation was initiated by the IC at 06:37:41 followed by a request at 06:37:53 to the HCCC for a second alarm complement of firefighting resources.
At 06:42:01, RAT25 entered the basement from the rear of the building. At 07:00:27, E26’s personnel entered through the front main entrance of the building and into the basement by means of the interior stairway.
Both missing firefighters were located in the basement near the Charlie side wall adjacent to the Beta side following a floor collapse. Capt. Broxterman and Ffr. Schira were obviously deceased as a result of their injuries.
Fire Origin and Cause: Information from the property owners was that the female had smelled an odor in the house. She told her husband, who went to investigate. Neither of them observed any smoke or flames at that time. The husband went to the basement, and located a fire near a cedar wood lined closet used to cultivate orchids in the unfinished utility room. He attempted to extinguish the fire with portable fire extinguishers and pans of water. As the fire alarm activated, the husband had his wife call 9-1-1 to report the fire. The state of Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office Fire and Explosion Investigation Bureau ruled the fire to be accidental in nature. The fire was determined to have originated in the unfinished utility room of the basement level in or near the cedar closet. This area was directly below the family room on the first floor. The probable ignition source for this fire was determined to be at and about a plastic air circulation fan and the associated electrical wiring.
Cause of Deaths
Capt. Broxterman was a 37-year old employee of the Colerain Fire & EMS with approximately 17-years of certified firefighting experience. Capt. Broxterman became trapped in the basement area for a prolonged amount of time following the sudden floor collapse. Capt. Broxterman was found positioned face down over top of Ffr. Schira. The majority of her protective clothing ensemble and equipment were heavily damaged as a result of exposure to heat and direct flame impingement. She was pronounced deceased following her removal from the building. Her body was transported to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office for autopsy. The Coroner’s report cited the manner of death as “accidental” and the cause of death as “burns and inhalation of smoke and superheated and noxious gases.” Capt. Broxterman sustained burns to 100% of her body surface, which ranged from first to fourth degree in severity as described in the coroner’s autopsy report. Postmortem carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), which is a measure of carbon monoxide exposure, was measured at 22% saturation and soot was observed in portions of her upper and lower respiratory system.
Based on the injuries sustained and the damage to Capt. Broxterman’s protective clothing ensemble and equipment, it is likely that she was exposed to a rapid intensification of heat and flames in the building’s basement that overwhelmed her protective ensemble and equipment, exposing her body and respiratory system to intense heat and toxic products of combustion.
Ffr. Schira was a 29-year old employee of Colerain Fire & EMS with approximately 3½-years of certified firefighting experience. He also became trapped in the basement area for a prolonged amount of time following the sudden floor collapse. Ffr. Schira was found positioned on his right side and back, face-up beneath Capt. Broxterman. The majority of his protective clothing ensemble and equipment was heavily damaged as a result of exposure to heat and direct flame impingement. Ffr. Schira was pronounced deceased following his removal from the building. His body was transported to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office for autopsy. The Coroner’s report cited the manner of death as “accidental” and the cause of death as “burns and inhalation of smoke and superheated and noxious gases”. Ffr. Schira sustained burns to 100% of his body surface, which ranged from first to fourth degree in severity as described in the coroner’s autopsy report. Postmortem COhb was measured at 8% saturation and soot was observed in portions of his upper and lower respiratory system.
Based on the injuries sustained and the damage to Ffr. Schira’s protective equipment, it is likely that that he was exposed to a rapid intensification of heat and flames in the building’s basement that overwhelmed his protective ensemble and equipment, exposing his body and respiratory system to intense heat and toxic products of combustion.
Select Findings and Recommendations
Findings, Discussions and Recommendations
FINDING #3.1: The area of fire origin had no finished ceiling, which exposed the floor joists and the underside of the floor decking to direct fire impingement causing rapid deterioration and failure of the flooring system directly underneath the main-level family room.
During this incident, based on communications transcripts (telephone and radio) it’s probable that the fire had advanced from its incipient stage to a free burning stage in approximately 18 to 20-minutes by the time Capt. Broxterman radioed that they were making entry into the basement.
As stated in the Incident Overview section, during the time period between 06:29:24 and 06:34:48, it is believed that one or more catastrophic events occurred within the building, which included a failure of the flooring system near the Beta-Charlie corner of the building’s first floor.
It has been widely believed in the firefighting profession that traditional sawn lumber is far superior to some of the more innovative lightweight construction components (e.g., wood I-joist) in use today. With dimensional lumber, two-inch by eight-inch and larger, there is a greater surface to mass ratio to resist the damaging effects of fire and the structural components will maintain their integrity for a longer period of time. While this has traditionally been accurate, this incident clearly shows that this may not always be the case. Heavy charring was evident to structural members in the fire area of origin. Notice the burn damage shows how the wooden floor joists had been burned to and away from the band joist. A band joist is a vertical member that forms the perimeter of a floor system in which the floor joists tie in to. Also known as the rim joist. Early platform framed homes very likely used solid, dimensional lumber and plywood, which provided a reasonable surface to mass ratio. But the later the home was built, the less mass even dimensional lumber has due to the reduction in the actual thickness of solid dimensional lumber provided by the lumber industry through the mid-1900’s. As the years go by, building materials will likely keep getting lighter and lighter and introduce more resins and other chemicals.
Laboratory tests that exposed structural wood components to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E119 Assembly Test indicated that a traditional two-inch by ten-inch structural member failed in 12-minutes and six-seconds. ASTM E119 test is the standard test method for evaluating building and construction materials exposed to fire. Unlike the standardized ASTM test fires, it is widely recognized that real building fires are highly variable in their size, rate of growth and intensity. Responding firefighters are unlikely to know when a given fire started, how hot it had been prior to arrival, how long it had been at any given temperature, the design capacity and actual loads on the floors over the fire or the amount of actual damage that the fire may have done to the joists. All of these factors make it impossible to predict the remaining capacity of a floor by even the most knowledgeable, professional fire experts.
RECOMMENDATION #3.1a: Fire departments should ensure that firefighters and incident commanders are aware that unprotected floor and ceiling joist systems, no matter the type, may fail at a faster rate when exposed to direct fire impingement.
Unfinished basement ceilings and other areas that have exposed joists or trusses jeopardize flooring and roof systems unnecessarily during a fire, causing premature failure. Often, a weakened floor and ceiling joist system can be difficult to detect from above as the floor surface above may still appear intact. Firefighters operating on floors above fire-damaged joist systems may fall through a weakened area and become trapped in a fire below. IC’s and firefighters must be aware that these systems can fail rapidly and without warning, and plan interior operations accordingly.
Firefighters must also be aware that while floor sag may be a widely accepted warning of an impending structural failure, floor sag is not always present or visible prior to a catastrophic collapse in a fire, regardless of the joist type, due to floor coverings, the fire’s intensity, the combination of joist spans and loads present, the location of serious structural fire damage or simply because it is too dark and smoky to see a sag in the floor. This is true for all types of structural joists, including materials such as sawn lumber, wood I-joists, and open web wood trusses and noncombustible members such as lightweight steel joists. The floor covering in this area was carpeting that transitioned to ceramic tile. When unprotected, any traditional or lightweight residential floor or ceiling assembly material, either combustible or noncombustible, may fail within several minutes of the fire’s ignition. It makes sense, therefore, that when there is a serious fire beneath a floor, there is no predictable safe amount of time that anyone can remain on that floor. Any floor system protected or not, can fail unpredictably when exposed to a substantial fire beneath.
FINDING # 4.2: E102′s officer failed to properly analyze the scene by not performing a 360-degree scene size-up to determine an overall strategy, and implement safe and effective firefighting tactics.
After the apparatus was positioned in front of the building, E102’s FAO was ordered by Capt. Broxterman to, “Ask the homeowner where the fire [location] was”, which was indicated to be in the basement by the male homeowner. As this was taking place, Capt. Broxterman continued donning her protective clothing ensemble (coat, helmet and self-contained breathing apparatus). Although E102′s officer provided a brief radio report of conditions observed upon arrival, she did not properly evaluate the scene so as to develop a basic strategy for implementation of safe and effective firefighting tactics. Had the officer visually evaluated the Charlie side of the building, the advanced fire conditions may have been noted, and that the lower level fire area was accessible by means of an exterior entry door for a more direct fire attack from the interior unburned side.
This means that firefighters enter a building and position the attack hose line between the fire and the uninvolved portions of the building. This direction of fire attack is preferred because it is likely to contain the fire, protect occupants, and push heat and gases out of the building if ventilation has been performed. On the other hand, danger increases significantly when attacking from the unburned side and is not always practical based on fire location, intensity, and building construction.
It cannot be conclusively known as to why Capt. Broxterman and Ffr. Schira proceeded into the area of the building that eventually collapsed resulting in their deaths. The investigation committee has concluded that the most probable explanation is that E102′s three-person interior team was successful in advancing their uncharged attack hose line into the basement recreation room area; reaching a point approximately 10 to15-feet from the bottom of the basement stairway as shown in the Incident Overview chapter. Once the team reached this area, it was realized they did not have sufficient hose line to continue advancing towards the seat of the fire. The team’s third member (Ffr. #2) reversed his travel and made his way back to the exterior of the building to advance additional hose line. As the team of two waited for additional hose line to be stretched and the hose line to be charged by the pump operator, the interior conditions rapidly deteriorated to a stage that it became untenable for them to hold their position.
The team evacuated back-up the stairway without following the hose line, which by all indications was tight up against the stairway wall and tightly wrapped around the stairway door entry. Once at the top of the stairway, one of the two deceased, if not both were likely in some form of distress; became disoriented and proceeded into the family room in a direction opposite the route of travel from which they entered the building. As the two moved across the family room floor, the flooring system collapsed into the utility room area of the basement. When the third team member re-entered the building, he was unable to locate the other two members.
The inability of Ffr. #2 to locate his team and the loss of radio communications contact with the interior team prompted the IC to declare a Mayday and activation of the RATs. This incident resulted in tragedy primarily due to the concealment of several burned-through floor joists under the carpet covered flooring system, which was nearly impossible to recognize due to heavy smoke conditions inside the burning building.
The following factors are believed to have directly contributed to the deaths that occurred in this incident:
The delayed arrival at the incident scene allowed the fire to progress significantly and the hazardous conditions to exponentially increase;
The failure to adhere to fundamental firefighting practices (e.g., entry into an enclosed building with obvious working fire conditions without a charged attack hose line)
The failure to abide by the fundamental concepts of fire fighter self-rescue and survival (e.g., following of the hose line in the direction of travel back to the building’s entrance or exit).
Although the aforementioned factors are believed to have directly contributed to the deaths reported here, they might have been prevented if:
Some personnel had not been complacent or apathetic in their initial approach to this incident which eventually led to being overwhelmed in their response to their initial findings;
Some personnel were in a proper state of mind that made them more observant of their surroundings and indicators, and the potential threats and risks that presented themselves;
The initial responding units were provided with all pertinent information in a
timely manner relative to the incident, especially critical was the information given to the emergency communications center from the homeowners reporting an actual fire
Personnel assigned to E102 possessed a comprehensive knowledge of their firstdue response area specifically related to road and street locations, and any particular characteristics related to those areas.
A 360-degree size-up of the building accompanied by a risk – benefit analysis was conducted by the company officer prior to initiating interior fire suppression operations; the risk of an action must be weighed against the probable benefit that may be reasonably and realistically expected.
Comprehensive standard operating guidelines specifically related to structural firefighting existed within the department;
The communications system users (on-scene firefighters and those monitoring the incident) weren’t all vying for limited radio air time. This competition led to missed and distorted messages and less than efficient use of resources, which exacerbated the problems of already taxed communications.
The communications equipment and accessories utilized were more appropriate for the firefighting environment;
Certain tactical-level decisions and actions were based on the specific conditions as encountered with an emphasis placed on fire ground tactical priorities (i.e., life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation);
Personnel had initiated fundamental measures to engage in if they were to become disoriented or trapped inside a burning building; and
Issued personal protective equipment was utilized in the correct manner.
The Colerain Township (OH) Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services’s report examined the events of April 4th, 2008 with the benefit of hindsight, while seeking to be independent, impartial, and thorough. From the beginning, Colerain Fire & EMS has been committed to share our findings with others in the hope that it may prevent another such event.
The deaths of Captain Robin M. Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira had a profound loss not only to their parents, family and this organization, but also to the larger fire service community. In order to prevent these tragic losses in the future, we must first understand how and why our sister and brother firefighters died. We must learn from their incident and take that knowledge forward. If it was possible, what would these firefighters tell us today that might prevent a similar death of a firefighter in the future? What would they want us as firefighters, company officers and chief officers to know about the circumstances that lead to their deaths and the things we (and they) might have done to alter the most tragic of outcomes?
From the information that was made available for review, it was evident that these two individuals were well-loved in life, and greatly missed in death. Every line of duty death of a firefighter in the United States is significant. This investigative analysis document is dedicated to Captain Broxterman and Firefighter Schira, their families, friends and the community whose lives were forever changed. In working to improve the health and safety of all United States firefighters, we have much to learn from the supreme sacrifice of these two individuals, who they were in life and in death. We honor their memories.
Colerain Township Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Web Site HERE
Investigation Analysis of the Squirrels nest Lane Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths April, 2010 Full Report HERE
NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report F2008-09| CDC/NIOSH July, 2009, Report HERE
Dollar Store, Main Street West, Listowel, Ontario Canada
Two volunteer firefighters were killed in the line of duty in southwestern Ontario, Canada on Thursday while battling a commercial department-store fire in Listowel, Ont., which is 160 kilometres east of Toronto, Ontario
Perth OPP were called at 15:30 hours ET, to help the volunteer fire department deal with the structure fire. Published reports are indicating the fire had broken out in the roof of a Dollar Stop store, where roofers had previously been working.
A short time later, two firefighters were unaccounted for. Firefighters conducted a search of the building and found the two downed firefighters who had succumbed to injuries they suffered while fighting the fire.
No further details about the victims were available at the present time. The firefighters’ bodies were still in the building at 20:00 hours., ET, Thursday, and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office had taken over the scene. Fire fighter Line of duty deaths is not common in Canada and having a fire in which there is a double LODD is even more unheard of.
Additional published reports indicated flames all along the west side and flames were shooting out of the roof, with a series of pops, like small explosions being reported.
Four fire stations – Atwood, Listowel, Monkton and Milverton – all responded to the blaze.
The firefighters were in the process of completing a primary search within the building when the roof collapsed, the QMI Agency has learned.
Witnesses said smoke was first spotted coming from the roof of the Dollar Stop store at about 3:30 p.m.
A short time later, two firefighters from the North Perth Fire Department were reported missing inside the single-storey structure. They were later found dead, but their bodies had not been recovered Thursday night.
Killed were 30-year-old Raymond Walter of Listowel, and 56-year-old Kenneth Rea of Atwood. Rea was the deputy district chief for the Atwood station, one of three serving North Perth.
Emergency crews on the scene of a fatal fire in Listowel ON, March 17, 2011. Courtesy AM920 CKNX Listowel, Ont.,
PHOTOGRAPH BY: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times PHOTOGRAPH BY: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times
Firefighters gather to honor fallen colleague, Glenn Allen, HERE
Glenn L. Allen was a Firefighter/Paramedic for over 36 years and last served at Fire Station 97. He is the 61st Los Angeles Firefighter to have died while directly involved in emergency operations during the Department’s 125-year history.
Authority is the right to command and expend resources.
A leader is one who can generate effective individual and group action to accomplish agency goals.
The fire service is a dynamic profession that is richly steeped in tradition, noble in deeds and calling. We know the fire service to be constant – yet ever changing in today’s society. We have built this profession upon man and machinery in opposition with an uncontrolled force known as fire. The last fifteen years has shown a shift from traditional fire service missions to encompass a wide scope of service deliveries that is ever expanding. We are challenged daily on the way we do business.
These changes have affected not only the fire service as a whole but also each level
within. The importance of competencies for fire officers in skills, knowledge and training is of the essence in today’s fire service. Fire officer cultural and attitudinal changes are the crucial links that will ultimately determine the future of our business.
Each year the American fire service experiences an average of over 100 line of duty deaths each year. Further we know that the amount of working fires are down approximately 66% of what they were in the mid 1970’s. So what is the score card saying? Why do we continue to know the causes of line of duty deaths and do nothing to change? Summed up it is nothing more than attitudes. We need to change our attitudes. There is no where in the corporate world that you could come in and give an annual report that stated we had a good year, we only lost 100 employees that you would not be escorted out the door before you could get your personal items in a box. Ron Siarnicki of the national Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation (NFFF) made this statement in one of there program. Guess what…HE IS CORRECT! Why do we as leaders in this business continue to allow these issues to occur? Why do we continue to deem it an honor to die in the line of duty? Why are we so resistant to change? We call it tradition! Well as a fire chief and a fire service member I have to say, “GET OVER OLD and BAD TRADITIONS, START A SAFE NEW ONE!” Ok, if I stepped on some toes here, GOOD, they probably needed it. We cannot afford to continue allowing the same mistakes over and over again to occur. At some point we have to start saying it is not acceptable to have injuries and Line of Duty Deaths (LODD). We must change this culture and the time is now and it starts with YOU!
I recently was shuttled to the airport following a conference. I was able to spend that time talking with a young foriegn exchange fire science student who was asking many questions about the culture of the fire service. I asked me how many people get hurt or are killed doing this job as he had seen T-Shirts this week about this. I was ashamed to say we usually have an average of more than 100 firefighters a year. He then asked why. Boy did this hit home! We know why and how firefighters die in the line of duty but what are we doing to prevent them? In 2010 we had eighty five(85) line of duty deaths. My question is just how many of these could have been prevented? One area that we know we can control the environment and have good chances of not having a line of duty death is training. But in 2010 we had 7 line of duty deaths in training. This equates to 8.2% of the total line of duty deaths for that year. Secondly responding to and returning from alarms accounted for 16 line of duty deaths or 18.8%. Deaths in crashes continue to account for a significant portion of the annual fatalities. How many of these could have been prevented? How many were not wearing their seat belts? How many was speed a contributing factor? To answer the last two questions is far too many. This can be corrected with an attitude adjustment.
Let’s look at how we can reduce these numbers. We need to first address our culture and make attitude changes. These changes need to be at all levels. We can begin this change today without problems by changing the thought process as new firefighters enter the academies across the United States. We can further push with the existing firefighters. We have to hit the dinosaurs hard because they take the new recruits freshly in the field and create dinosaur eggs that then develop into dinosaurs themselves. The year 2009 we saw a reduction in the line of duty deaths to below 100 again. Are we lucky or are we truly focusing on what the issues are. Thus the culture revolves in a vicious cycle. Ok there is the start but what do we do to impact the fire service?
We need to develop and require Comprehensive Health and Wellness Programs. These programs need to include physical conditioning, medical evaluations, and mental conditioning. With more and more firefighters perishing due to heart attacks and strokes ( 56.4%) we need to make sure that we are in the physical condition to do this job. I further think that the statistics are some what skewed. When we see LODDs of fire service personnel 65 years old or older who die after responses who did not engage in suppression activities it is being question as to where or not these individuals would have had a heart attack even if they were not on scene within that 24 hours. How many departments are providing and requiring comprehensive medical evaluations (NFPA 1582) for all of their members? If you are not, you need to look for a way to make this happen. So many times I hear of how certain medical evaluations have found members of the fire service with health issues they never knew existed. These physicals need to be annually. I recently was running a portion of a department’s physical conditioning program which was a job performance physical agility test. I found one of our more experience personnel to be hypertensive (elevated blood pressure). I refused to let him test and the department sent him for medical evaluation. Guess what…he is alive today and has begun taking on life style changes and has medication to assist in controlling this issue. He had no symptoms of this condition and was at the potential levels for major problems. Simply as your grandmother would say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Further we need to evaluate and support physical conditioning (NFPA 1583). These need to set personal goals as each individual is different, department goals and standards as to show everyone who performs must be able to perform at a set level. Lastly, we must have qualitative and quantitative testing of physical conditioning. Not as punishment but as a teaching tool. How many of your members can tell you exactly how long an SCBA will last when they are working at full capacity. As command officers this is important information as we work on scenes and strive to complete accountability of our personnel. More importantly it will keep our personnel safer.
We know this is one of the most stressful jobs anywhere you could travel. So just how well do we condition our folks mentally. Have you ever heard “suck it up it’s your job?” Sitting and talking with some professionals from an FDNY Engine Company they talked about and exhibited significant signs of Critical Incident Stress. This, I am sure, is compounded several times over from the events that affect the lives of these firefighters, but hey lets face facts here. These brothers are hurting and hurting bad. But have we addressed any of this, how about there families? I bet they are hurting too! So what do we do to help this problem? We must provide good Critical Incident Stress (CIS) education and coping techniques not only to the firefighters but also for their families. I know that I have done multiple programs on the east coast about this same issue, addressing firefighters and families together both the firehouse family and our true families all at the table together. This program is titled “Hearts and Sirens” and it explores CIS as it affects both the emergency services working and the family we leave at home when duty calls. My wife tells here heart felt stories of the situations she has had to live through and what helped. Basically we provide education, coping techniques and skills to deal with CIS for families. Let’s face it tough guys, even the hard core folks, struggle with all we face in this job at some point. As they face repetitive issues it becomes cumulative and eventually the levels will build up to the eruption point. This can be prevented and enhance our quality of life with just a little education and swallowing of pride on our part. Face it we are not super human, as much as we wish we were.
Training is the paramount. We must continue to enhance our training in every aspect. This includes going back to the basics. We often see in NIOSH reports where basic and routine components of our job are not performed or are contributing factors to LODD and injuries. So why can’t we do the basics? We have the mentality of hey I been there done that, I don’t need to do that anymore, I have got that down. Ok are you sure? If so show me! If you got it should not be hard or lengthy. Next we need to focus on realism. What are we truly going to face. I deal with the mentality of that wouldn’t happen to us or that’s the big city stuff it’s not going to happen here. Well, last time I checked fire did not discriminate. It does matter who you are or where you are from. Reality check… who would have thought that an aircraft with terrorists on board would crash in rural Pennsylvania. That should prove this point with enough said. We must train hard, train realistically and train often. By doing this we stoke our tool boxes with the right tools for the job.
As we train, we as leaders and trainers must make every effort to pull out the stops. We must not accept or condone any type of training environment or attitude that compromises the safety of any firefighter. We must cease pushing the envelope with cowboy tactics that only prove that you can show boat. If this is you I have a message…Your Dangerous and you need to change. We do not need to hurt or kill firefighters to have good quality training. In fact good quality training starts with no injuries and especially no deaths. In research of training line of duty deaths almost every incident could have been prevented.
In closing we must have to courage to say NO and the courage to be safe. It often is not a popular personality folks want to see, but again is it worth dieing for…Most times not! Come on folks, let’s face it, we are not doing everything correct here. We need to change and we need to change NOW!!! Do your self, your firefighters and their families a favor. Help prevent a line of duty death, change the attitudes and culture in your departments and have the courage to be safe! The families at home depend on you to be a leader and an officer. If you are not willing to do as much as possible to help with the change of the culture, do the fire service a favor, RETIRE or QUIT or RESIGN BEING AN OFFICER because you are part of the problem not part of the solution. Help us support the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the fire service quest of “EVERYONE GOES HOME”.
Thousands of mourners from across the state of Maryland and the nation arrived at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in North Baltimore (MD) on Monday January 24th to honor fallen firefighter Mark Falkenhan.
The call for the fire at 30 Dowling Circle came in to fire dispatchers at 6:18 p.m. The call came in as a kitchen fire; however, fire investigators have not determined that the fire originated in the kitchen. The fire remains under investigation. Fire Chief John Hohman has asked the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for assistance. Engine 11 was the first-arriving engine. The fire quickly escalated to a second-alarm, and eventually four alarms worth of equipment were dispatched. About 30 pieces of fire equipment and 100 fire personnel responded.
Mark Falkenhan arrived with the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co. and entered the building with his partner, Dennis Fulton. At some point, Falkenhan called a mayday, indicating he was in distress. He was on the third floor, searching for fire victims. His partner was able to escape through a window on the third floor. FF Fulton escaped by diving off the balcony and sliding face-first down a ladder. Firefighters found Falkenhan on the third floor and moved him to the balcony, where crews delivered him to paramedics. Medic personnel administered advanced life support measures and transported him to St. Joseph Medical Center.
They were on the third floor when it’s believed they were suddenly overwhelmed by a possible flashover. Firefighter Falkenhan did not make it out.
He signaled a “Mayday” distress call at 6:47 p.m., and rescue workers rushed to return to the third floor. They pulled Falkenhan out of the building and down the ladder, then performed advanced life-support measures. He was transported to St. Joseph Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Mark Gray Falkenhan was born Dec. 26, 1967, in Middle River. Shortly after he graduated from Mount Carmel High School in 1986, Falkenhan joined the Middle River Volunteer Ambulance & Rescue Co. He rose to the rank of chief and became a lifetime member.
Falkenhan then joined the Baltimore County Fire Department as an emergency medical technician in 1990.
He married Gladys on Nov. 11, 1993, and became an EMT-Paramedic the following year. He was an instructor at the Fire Rescue Academy and served at various stations across the county—Woodlawn, Dundalk, Golden Ring, Essex, Eastview and Fullerton—before retiring in 2006 to accept a job with the U.S. Secret Service.
“He loved his family first, but his life was the fire department,” his wife stated. Fire Chief Hohman could barely hold back the tears last week at Falkenhan’s house as he reflected on Falkenhan’s life and his devotion to public service. He first met Falkenhan more than two decades ago, when Hohman was the union president and he spent time speaking with those fresh out of the fire academy.
“He was so dedicated to what he did, and I could tell he loved what he did,” Hohman said. “You won’t be able to find a picture or photo out there of Mark that didn’t show that broad smile that went across his face. He enjoyed everything about his life.”
In addition to his affiliation with Lutherville VFC, Firefighter Falkenhan, was a member of Baltimore County’s career fire department for 16 years, from 1990 to 2006. He was a paramedic/firefighter whose assignments included the Fire-Rescue Academy, where he was an instructor. He served at many stations, including Woodlawn, Dundalk, Golden Ring, Essex, Eastview and Fullerton. Falkenhan resigned in 2006 and was most recently employed with the U.S. Secret Service. In addition to his membership at Lutherville, he was a life member and past chief of the Middle River (MD)Volunteer Ambulance Rescue Co.
The Baltimore Sun newspaper published an editorial about the death of Firefighter Falkenhan that is required reading; HERE . An excerpt from the editorial reads as follows:
The word “hero” gets used too often to describe the most pedestrian of admirable behaviors, from the star quarterback who marches his team for a winning score to the kid who finds a missing wallet and turns it in. But exceptional bravery, special ability, exceptional deeds and noble qualities — those are what define an authentic hero, and Mr. Falkenhan lacked for none of them.
It was not by accidental circumstance or naiveté that he ended up on the third story of that Hillendale apartment complex in the midst of a fire, searching for missing residents. He knew the risks as well as anyone could. But his selfless desire to help others drove him forward into the flames.
That’s what made him exceptional. That’s why his legacy is important. That’s why the community is in his debt.
Think about this man; a brother firefighter, a husband, a father, a mentor….reflect on his life, his sacrifice and the true meaning and definition of being a firefighter….
Reflect on what you do, who you are and what defines you; rise to meet the demands and challenges with the right qualities that have meaning and reflect upon the virtues of this noble profession we call the Fire Service.
Take the time to read both NIOSH reports and remember the sacrafice…
Three veteran FDNY firefighters died in the LODD in Brooklyn, New York and the Bronx on Sunday January 23, 2005, a day that has become known as “Black Sunday” and called one of the saddest in fire department history. Two firefighters were killed and four others were badly hurt when they were forced to jump from a fourth-floor window of a burning building in the Bronx.
Later, a third firefighter died after tackling a basement blaze in Brooklyn.Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, of Battalion 26, and Firefighter John Bellew, 37, of Ladder 27, died after battling the Bronx blaze on East 178th Street in the Morris Heights section.
Three firefighters were in critical condition at St. Barnabas, and a fourth was in serious condition at Jacobi Medical Center. Six Bronx firefighters became trapped in the building while searching for people on the fourth floor. When the fire from the third floor broke through to the fourth, they were faced with a horrifying choice. They jumped out a fourth-floor window, knowing that they would be critically injured.
Firefighters Jeffrey Cool, Joseph DiBernardo, Eugene Stolowski, and Cawley were badly hurt in the Bronx fire. They were trapped on the fourth floor and were left with the life-or-death choice of leaping 50 feet or burning up. The Brooklyn firefighter, Richard Sclafani, 37, died at a hospital after being injured at a two-alarm fire in the East New York section.
Two dates and a dash in the middle…that equates to your day of birth, your life and your day of death. The middle component is symbolized by a dash (-). So what does that dash mean? Well let’s be honest it divides the dates on the grave stone and it is symbolic of your time alive. I heard this as the opening of a church service recently and it hit me like a ton of bricks of just how this symbolizes our time in the fire service especially the portion you are serving as a fire officer.
As a fire officer I am going to challenge each individual who reads this article to live and work the fire service as if you only had one month to live. Recently I was conversing with a good friend in the fire service, Deputy Chief Jeff Pindelski of Downers Grove, Illinois, and we both said it at the same time it is obvious that firefighters and fire officers have lost the passion for the fire service. This concerns me considerably as I have a good ways to go to retire and I am going to see the effects of what this loss will cause. In the 16 Life Safety Initiatives, the first initiative states that we need to define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety, incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility. I believe that this loss of passion is the root of the problem. Bottom line if you don’t really give a Damn then there is no passion and no passion leads to lack of leadership, management, supervision and responsibility as an officer. As we see this the way to make this change is that officers should live and perform each day passionately in an effort to change or make the fire service better. So why does this not happen? It is just too easy to sit back and ride the wave and keep the status quo. Well those folks will never leave a thumb print on the organization that way.
This lake of passion will not let you leave a positive mark on the fire service. We see each year over 100 line of duty deaths. We are presented the causes through FirefighterCloseCalls.com, the Near Miss Reporting System and NIOSH reports. My question is why do we keep doing the same things over and over expecting to get different results? My answer is that firefighters and fire officers don’t have the passion to make change. Let’s face it; they obviously don’t love the fire service. I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch on day when an elderly couple comes in. It is obvious that the gentleman was in much better physical condition and health than his wife. But she was meticulously dressed and made up. As she shuffled along slowly the gentleman stood by her side and helped her. They finally made it to the counter, ordered their meal and he proceeded to help her to the table to sit down. All along she shuffled along slowly. This fine gentleman never got hurried or frustrated with her. As she sat down in a booth he had to gently push her over as she was not able to scoot herself. He went back to the counter got the food and brought it to the table. He sat down fixed her food for her, took her hands and prayed. After finishing the prayer the gentleman began to feed her. In seeing this was passion for his wife and true demonstration of love that he had for her. Ok my fellow officers just how many of you have that passionate level of love for the fire service. I would guess not many as I hear frequently what can the department do for me not what I can do for the department.
It is obvious that Ken Farmer in one of his recent Barnyard Management article series hit it on the head…we have got a lot of Kudzu. “For those of you not in the south Kudzu is a climbing, woody vine that is capable of reaching up to 100 feet in trees but scrambles over almost any lower vegetation. It has large green leaves. The scientists say it will grow up to 60 feet in a season and as much as 30 stems from a single root. It was originally brought from Japan to the US in 1876 to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition as a forage and ornamental plant. Somehow it escaped from a secure greenhouse in Philly and was spread throughout the south by several northern terrorists while on vacation in the south. (Well, if you believe that story…..)
It was actually promoted by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service 1935 to the 1950’s to reduce soil erosion in the South. It worked to hold the soil in gullies and in areas where land was clear cut. Farmers were even paid $8.00 an acre to grow it and more than 1.2 million acres were planted with funds from the government.
After it became difficult to clear and stop, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared it a weed in early 1953. To even further soil (or sully) its reputation, in 1998 it was declared by Congress as a Federal Noxious Weed. The good news is that no one in the South heard about that law being passed!
So, with such a rich history and so much a part of southern tradition and lore, why do we still make fun of kudzu? Well, that is very easy to answer. Kudzu is a sneaky pest that will cover everything before you can turn around and stop it! On a farm its one of those things that happens before your eyes and you just don’t see it coming. It is almost impossible to kill. Scientists say it takes 20 years to kill it off! We would try almost anything from pesticides to trying to make the cows eat it (the cows graciously refused!) to burning it off. Of course, none of this was successful. So you always kept a sharp eye on it all the time and tried to cut it back every chance you got.
So do you have any kudzu vines in your department or business? You know the type I am speaking about! They sit over there in their office or maybe they work at another station or work site. You never think about them until you realize they have snuck over and covered everyone else with their negative thoughts and leaves. Then you have to get in there and hack away at the plant to try to stop its spread. The first thing you must do it get to the root, just like with kudzu. If you don’t take out the root, the pain (and the weed) will just start growing back the very next day.” Bottom line is we cannot let the poison in. It will spread like Kudzu.
Because we live in a “Me” first world – “I want it and I want it now” We as officers must make some BIG cultural changes. We must be patient and loving like the gentleman was to his wife. Showing passion about the people and the communities we serve. We have to make that dash between the two numbers truly mean something and leave a positive thumb print on the fire service. Officers should perform each day passionately in an effort to change the fire service for the better. Working tirelessly to make the fire service safer, firefighters better educated and our service delivery the best it can be since we have a monopoly on the business in our communities. Bottom line officers need to be just that officers, not coat tail riders.
I want to leave you with a few final thoughts…Who or what are you working for?
1. Other people’s approval?
2. For more toys?
3. For someone else?
Or are you working for the right reasons. Hey folks as firefighters and especially fire officers you have only one option if you are going to do it with passion…LEAD BODLY FROM THE FRONT. Because, you have two dates and a dash in the middle what are you going to do with the dash? What will folks say your dash means when you are gone?
Double Firefighter LODD Residential House Fire 2002
Lawsuit revived against fire departments in firefighter’s death in 2002 house fire
A New York State appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against the Manlius (NY) and Pompey Hill (NY) fire departments in the death of a volunteer firefighter battling a Pompey house fire in 2002.
The state Supreme Court Appellate Division in Rochester – in a 4-1 split decision – concluded the law granting personal immunity to volunteer firefighters does not apply to the fire departments themselves or to department officials.
The lawsuit stems from the death of Fayetteville (NY) Firefighter Timothy Lynch in a fire March 7, 2002, at a home on Sweet Road in Pompey. Manlius (NY) Firefighter John Ginocchetti also died in that blaze.
Lynch’s widow, Donna Prince Lynch, sued Onondaga County, New York and then county Fire Coordinator Mike Waters in 2003. The county responded to that lawsuit by suing the Pompey Hill Fire District, the Pompey Hill Fire Department, Assistant Chiefs Richard Abbott and Mark Kovalewski, the village of Manlius, the Manlius Fire Department, Deputy Chief Raymond Dill and homeowner Joseph Messina.
State Supreme Court Justice Donald Greenwood dismissed the claims against the fire departments and the chiefs in 2009 based on the immunity argument.
But the Rochester appellate court ruled last week that Greenwood erred. The majority concluded the section of state General Municipal Law granting immunity to volunteer firefighters in the performance of their duty did not apply to the fire departments or the department officials.
The plain language of the statute reflects the Legislature’s purpose in enacting that law was “first, to immunize volunteer firefighters from civil liability for ordinary negligence and, second, to shift liability for such negligence to the fire districts that employ them,” the majority wrote.
The court rejected the fire departments’ contention – and Greenwood’s earlier decision – that the law only allows fire departments to be held liable for volunteer firefighters’ negligent operation of motor vehicles. The court concluded the Legislature – in enacting the statute in 1934 – meant to expand, not restrict, the liability of fire districts.
“In other words, the Legislature sought to assure that there would be some liability on the part of the fire districts where previously there had been some doubt,” the majority wrote.
Justice Eugene Fahey, in a lone dissent, agreed with Greenwood that the immunity law applied to the departments and their officials as well as the volunteer firefighters. He concluded the fact the Legislature carved out a motor vehicle exception indicated the lawmakers’ intent was to grant immunity to the fire districts in the first place.
This is the second time Greenwood’s rulings in the case have been modified or overturned on appeal.
In 2007, Greenwood dismissed outright the Lynch lawsuit. But in February 2008, the appellate division reinstated the part that charged a violation of General Municipal Law and accused Waters of failing to comply with the state’s emergency command and control system.
The appellate court concluded then that there was an issue for trial as to whether Waters had a supervisory role at the fire scene.
The county responded to that ruling by suing the fire departments and their officials. The county contends that if there was any negligence on Waters’ part, it was less than that of the fire departments and their officials and those defendants should pay any damages.
Because there was no appeal of Greenwood’s separate decision dropping the case against Dill, he remains out of the lawsuit under the appellate court ruling.
First-Floor Collapse During Residential Basement Fire Claims the Life of Two Fire Fighters (Career and Volunteer) and Injures a Career Fire Fighter Captain – New York
On March 7, 2002, a 28-year-old male volunteer fire fighter (Victim #1) and a 41-year-old male career fire fighter (Victim #2) died after becoming trapped in the basement. Victim #1 manned the nozzle while Victim #2 provided backup on the handline as they entered the house. After entering the structure, the floor collapsed, trapping both victims in the basement. A career fire fighter captain joining the fire fighters near the time of the collapse was injured trying to rescue one of the fire fighters. Crew members responded immediately and attempted to rescue the victims; however, the heat and flames overcame both victims and eliminated any rescue efforts from the garage entrance. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should
ensure that the Incident Commander is clearly identified as the only individual responsible for the overall coordination and direction of all activities at an inciden
ensure that the Incident Commander conveys strategic decisions to all suppression crews on the fireground and continually reevaluates the fire condition
ensure that Incident Command conducts an initial size-up of the incident before initiating fire fighting efforts and continually evaluates the risk versus gain during operations at an incident
ensure that fire fighters from the ventilation crew and the attack crew coordinate their efforts
ensure that fire fighters report conditions and hazards encountered to their team leader or Incident Commander
ensure fire fighters are trained to recognize the danger of operating above a fire
A report from the New York State Department Of Labor details several problems that happened the night of a fire that claimed the lives of firefighters John Ginochetti and Timothy Lynch. The Pompey Hill Fire Department was issued three citations for problems with training, equipment, and communication.
Included in the report was a detailed listing of the events that happened on the night of March 7, 2002.
7:10 p.m.: 911 receives call about a fire in the basement of a home at 2841 Sweet Road, Pompey Hill.
7:20 p.m.: Manlius Fire Department responds to the fire.
7:28 p.m.: The assistant fire chief on scene reports that smoke is showing in the first floor of the building and that the fire is in the basement.
7:30 p.m.: Firefighters enter the building through the basement and garage.
7:37 p.m.: Fire has burned for 25 minutes.
7:45 p.m.: Gino Ginochetti and TJ Lynch start to ventilate the roof. The assistant fire chief says, “Hang tight, the fire is pretty well knocked down.”
7:47 p.m.: Command refuses 700 gallons of water offered.
7:51 p.m.: Onondaga County Fire Coordinator Mike Waters arrives on scene. Waters broke out the windows on the east side of the building.
7:53 p.m.: A team enters the basement, then discovers that there is no water pressure in their water hoses. The pump operator discovers that the valve system has failed and water will not flow.
7:58 p.m.: Fire has been burning for 48 minutes with no water being directed on it.
7:59 p.m.: Waters orders three firefighters, including Ginochetti and Lynch into the building through the garage and onto the first floor. At this time, both Ginochetti and Lynch fall through the floor and into the basement. The third firefighter, Brian Stevens, tried to pull Ginochetti from the basement. He then had to back away from the fire, which had flashed over. Stevens received burns to the face. Mike Waters entered the building to try and rescue the men, but had to be pulled out when the entire garage went up in flames. Crews outside started to direct water into the area of the collapse.
The report also notes that there were several violations with:
-respiratory protection standards
-number of training hours for the Incident Commander
The direct cause of deaths for Ginochetti and Lynch was found to be a combination of a ten foot fall into the basement and the smoke and heat exposure to both men.
Indirect causes included:
-Command at the fire scene did not maintain communication with attack teams assigned to do interior attack. The team assigned to the back of the building did not maintain communication.
-Command refused the 700 gallons of water offered, and instead said that the fire was under control.
-Communication problems between the teams meant that one group didn’t know whether or not the other had entered the building.
-Command gave orders without knowledge of the fire or the building, although the home owner was on scene to provide the information.
-Pompey Hill Fire Department procedures were deficient, including backup and rescue teams.
Future Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff stands with his dad, Thomas Hoff, during an inspection at Soldier Field in 1960. Thomas Hoff died in the line of duty in a building collapse two years later. (Chicago Tribune / December 22, 2010)
A fire commissioner’s words on tragedy, tempered by his family history. 2 firefighters killed in building collapse risked everything; so did commissioner’s dad in similar tragedy 48 years ago
With the soot still on his face and his eyes rimmed red, Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff did something no one in his position ever wants to do:
Stand in front of reporters and tell the story of a fire that claimed the lives of two of his firefighters, Corey Ankum, 34, and Edward Stringer, 47.
Hoff had been at the scene, and then spent time with the families of the dead, so he kept the sentiment to a minimum and recited the facts:
Just before 7 a.m., there was report of a fire at a vacant South Side laundromat. One group of firefighters put out the flames in a building office. The other group began searching for possible homeless squatters seeking refuge from the cold.
“They were searching for civilians as we always do,” Hoff said. “When without warning the roof collapsed, trapping four firefighters.”
Ankum and Stringer were killed. Their fellow firefighters dug them out. Seventeen others were injured.
Hoff took some questions about the roof collapse, and then came that last question. A TV reporter asked him to describe the bond firefighters have with each other. The reporter clearly wanted Hoff to emote for the cameras. But he declined to oblige with some teary speech.
“Right now, what I can talk about is that every firefighter that was there did the best they could to save their brothers,” Hoff said in clipped tones. “I can say our major concern right now is their families. That’s all I can tell you.”
His voice cracked just a bit there at the end and then he walked out, ending the news conference at the Fire Academy. He moved briskly down the hall. On the wall were several commemorative plaques.
One of the plaques he passed reads as follows:
“In memory of Battalion Chief Thomas A. Hoff, assistant drillmaster, who gave his life in performance of his duty at a 4-11 alarm from Station No. 1279, 14 February 1962.”
Bob Hoff, now fire commissioner, was 5 years old when his father, Tom, was killed in that fire on Valentine’s Day.
It happened at 70th Street and Dorchester Avenue, only a few blocks from Wednesday’s fire that took Ankum and Stringer.
The one that took Tom Hoff broke out in the basement of an apartment building. After the fire had been put out, Hoff and Chief Robert O’Brien were backing out toward a rear porch when the roof caved in, killing both men.
O’Brien was a boyhood friend of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, and the mayor broke down in tears upon hearing the news.
There is a Tribune photo taken in 1960, two years before Tom Hoff’s death. You can see Bob Hoff as a little boy standing next to his dad during an inspection at Soldier Field.
“I look at that every day, and it continues to drive me to serve as my motivation to be the best I can be,” Hoff told online photojournalist Alan Jacobs a few years ago.
On Wednesday, after the news conference, reporters and fire officials were still piecing together the narratives of the dead.
Ankum was in his second year with CFD, and had been a police officer before moving over to the Fire Department. Family members said Ankum believed police weren’t receiving proper respect on the streets of Chicago.
Stringer, a 12-year veteran, loved to ride his motorcycle out to a campground in Wilmington, a place where Chicago firefighters and cops decompress from the stress of their jobs.
The men died on the 100th anniversary of a fire in the old Union Stockyards that killed 21 firefighters.
Tom Ryan, president of Firefighters Union Local 2, was at the memorial for the stockyards fire Wednesday morning. His cell phone rang. The Rev. Tom Mulchrone, Fire Department chaplain, was calling to tell him what had happened.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Ryan said. “To have this happen today of all days.”
Like others at that memorial, he rushed to the scene.
“They’re doing a job that they know is very dangerous,” Ryan said. “But they also know that job is very important, essential to our city, our neighborhoods and our homes.”
He was talking about public service without using the phrase “public service.” It’s a phrase often used by politicians to describe themselves. They spend a lifetime making deals and if they’ve made enough important people happy, somebody names a building after them.
But firefighters don’t make such deals. There is no compromise in their work. They go into burning buildings looking for the possibility that squatters might be there. They risk everything.
“That’s our job,” said Ryan. “That’s what we get paid to do. We’ll get through it, but it’s going to be difficult. We lost two of our brothers today.”
They lost two brothers. And Chicago lost two true public servants.
A fire commissioner’s words on tragedy, tempered by his family history; Direct Column Link HERE Reprint of the John Kass Column, Chicago Tribune December 23, 2010
Chicago Tribune Editorial: ”Every fireman knows”, a must read….HERE
December 27, 1983 Buffalo, New York Five Firefighter Line-of-Duty Deaths
As Buffalo (NY) firefighters arrived at the scene of a reported propane leak in a three-story radiator warehouse (Type III Ordinary and Type IV Heavy Timber construction), a massive explosion occurred, killing five firefighters instantly and injuring nine others, three of them critically. The force of the blast blew BFD Ladder 5′s tiller aerial 35 feet across the street into the front yard of a dwelling. BFD Engine 1′s pumper was also blown across the street with the captain and driver pinned in the cab with burning debris all around them. Engine 32′s engine was blown up against a warehouse across a side street and covered with rubble.
Two civilians were also killed and another 60 to 70 were injured. While operating at the rescue effort, another 19 firefighters were injured. The blast and ensuing fire ignited 14 residences and damaged as many as 130 buildings over a four block area. The explosion occurred when an employee was moving an illegal 500-lb. propane tank with a forklift truck and dropped it, breaking off a valve. The gas leaked out, found an ignition source, and the explosion occurred.
At 20:23 hours, a full assignment was dispatched to North Division & Grosvenor streets. The three engines, two trucks, rescue and 3rd Battalion were responding to a report of a large propane tank leaking in a building. Engine 32 arrived and reported nothing showing, but they were talking to some workmen from the four-story, heavy-timber warehouse (approx. 50′ x 100′). Truck 5, Engine 1 and BC Supple arrived right behind E-32. Thirty-seven seconds after the chief announced his arrival, there was a tremendous explosion.
It completely leveled the four-story building. It demolished many buildings on four different blocks. It seriously damaged buildings that were over a half a mile away. The ensuing fireball started buildings burning on a number of streets. A large gothic church on the next block had a huge section ripped out of it as if a great hand carved out the middle. A ten-story housing projects a couple blocks away had every window broken and some had even more damage. Engine 32 and Truck 5′s firehouse, which was a half mile away or so, had all its windows shattered.
Killed in the line of duty were all assigned to Buffalo FD Ladder Company 5;
Firefighter Michael Austin,
Firefighter Michael Catanzaro,
Firefighter Matthew Colpoys,
Firefighter James Lickfield and
Firefighter Anthony Waszkielewicz.
Memorial A memorial to the five members of Buffalo Fire Department Ladder Co. 5 and the two civilians who were killed sits at fire call box 191 at the intersection of N. Division and Grosvenor streets. Each year on Dec. 27, at 2020 HRS, the fire department rings out the alarm 1-9-1 to honor the five firefighters of Ladder 5.
Remember to think about occupancy risk and not occupancy type and the factors related to the occupancy usage and the nature of the call. Nothing is ever routine.
Remembering Brackenridge, Pennsylvania December 20, 1991: Four Firefighters Killed, Trapped by Floor Collapse
Four volunteer firefighters died when they were trapped by a partial floor collapse during a structure fire in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, on the morning of December 20, 1991. All four were members of a mutual aid truck company that had responded to the early morning incident and were assigned to prevent fire extension from the basement to the ground floor of a 2-story building.
Although they were wearing full protective clothing and using self-contained breathing apparatus, it appears that they were overwhelmed by the severe fire conditions that erupted when a section of the ground floor collapsed into the basement.
The collapse cut off their primary escape path, and the fire burned through their hose line, leaving them without protection from the flames.
FDNY Citywide Tour Commander Asst Chief Gerard Barbara moments before the first collapse
For many of us, the events of September 11th, 2001 will forever be etched into our minds and hearts. The magnitude and severity of the sacrifices made that day by the FDNY as well as the NYPD, EMS and PANY/NJ uphold the tradition, beliefs, values and ideals that the Fire, Rescue, EMS and Law Enforcement professions embrace. The tragic loss of lives, the promise of the future; the unfulfilled opportunities and contributions that were yet to be recognized or made by many of those killed and the subsequent loss of completing life’s journey with their families, loved ones and comrades further magnifies the senselessness and grief many of us share to this day. FDNY Assistant Chief Gerard Barbara , the Citywide Tour Commander on the morning of September 11th (Remembrance HERE) whose image was profoundly captured standing in the street within the shadow of the twin towers moments before the first collapse provides a poignant reminder of our sworn duty, obligation and responsibilities as firefighters.
As I was preparing to capture some thoughts that reflected upon this, the ninth anniversary of 911, I came across an article that I had written within the subsequent days of September 11th that was published shortly thereafter.
As I began rereading the narrative, the vivid emotions and sentiments that were present in such a raw manner on that day and in the days and weeks that followed came rushing back to the surface. I reflected on the thought that sharing this narrative once again would echo upon some of what we all shared that day and give rise to where we’ve been in our own personal journeys. This is why we must remember, this is why we must never forget.
The First Steps of Our Journey(originally written and published September, 2001)
Tuesday September 11th began unremarkably like many others. I began my instructional delivery of a course of instruction on Incident Command Management for Structural Collapse Rescue Operations as part of the National Fire Academy’s field delivery programs in Ft. Myers, Florida. The class was comprised of Special Operations Battalion Chiefs, Command and Line Officers from throughout the region. As we began our discussion on the needs for urban search and rescue preparedness and its relationship to strategic incident command management and tactical company level capabilities, the Ft. Myers Chief of Department came into the classroom and directed us immediately to the station day room. The time was 08:55 hours, and so began our journey. The class immediately became transfixed upon the televised images streaming before us. The live coverage of the evolving sequence of events, the fire and emergency services responses and the devastation inflicted both in New York City and later in Washington, D.C., and the realization that this was a terrorist attack. For the next three hours we watched in disbelief the unfolding events in New York City at the World Trade Center, each of us fully realizing the magnitude and severity of the incident and the impact inflicted upon the fire, rescue, ems and law enforcement personnel operating at the scene. The transmission of Manhattan Box 55-8087 to the World Trade Center Towers brought New York City’s Bravest and Finest. We witnessed the evolving events of the initial high-rise fires in WTC Tower #1, the vivid images of the second aircraft impacting WTC Tower #2 and shortly thereafter, the horrendous collapse of both towers.
We watched in silence, fully cognizant of the potential toll the resulting collapses could have on the operating personnel and civilians alike. Following numerous telephone calls home and to my fire station, with the impending arrangements and planning being undertaken for our fire department’s possible deployment to NYC, I began a twenty-two hour trek back home. The journey back was consumed with the constant reports filtering through the radio speakers of the ever increasing descriptions of the magnitude and levels of destruction at what has become known as Ground Zero.
The turnpikes I traveled were filled with the passing images of the initial public outpouring of emotions to the day’s tragic events. Lone individuals on overpasses and bridges, waving our nation’s flag. The flags drawn to half staff throughout the communities I passed through and the electronic message boards along the highway, with words of condolence and encouragement in this time of national grief. Still in my Fire Academy shirt with the embroidered words of the NFA and Structural Collapse, I was recognized as a firefighter and approached by numerous people along my route back who questioned the events of the day, who were seeking some sense of understanding for what was becoming recognized as a significant loss of life to unaccounted for fire, rescue, law enforcement and civilians.
There were the unsolicited words of thanks expressed by people at gas pumps and rest areas up the entire east coast, who acknowledged my fire service affiliation and connected to what they may have seen or heard in terms of the of the missing F.D.N.Y. firefighters and N.Y.P.D. law enforcement officers. This level of acknowledgement, seemed so strange, when any other time, we seem to blend into the back ground of everyday life. All for having a fire service emblem on.
During my travel back to Syracuse, New York I listened to every report, every update and the ever increasing numbers of potential missing on the radio. Well after midnight I ran into a colleague of mine at a gas station, an Assistant Fire Chief from the Metro Dade Fire & Rescue Department, Florida who, along with four other urban search and rescue specialists were making their way to Washington, D.C. as part of the deployed FEMA USAR Task Force Team from South Florida. We shared in our grief over the immediate notification at a mayoral press briefing that our close friend FDNY Battalion Chief Ray Downey was identified as one of three chief FDNY Officers who died during the tower collapses.
We also shared in our grief in the initial reports of the over forty FDNY fire, rescue and support companies unaccounted for as a result of the fire suppression, rescue and collapse efforts. The continuing ride gave way to the thoughts and concerns of many of my friends within the FDNY. Were they on shift, are they accounted for, are they safe? I thought about everything that we have tried to prepare for, the years of developing our national urban search and rescue task force system, collapse-rescue training, terrorism preparedness and the images of the WTC events of the morning. I thought deeply of my twenty-six years of fire service involvement, my brother & sister firefighters, and again- the fate of my FDNY brothers and sisters in New York City.
Subsequently in the days that followed, I became glued to the live televised images from Ground Zero and ever increasing reports of the search and rescue efforts deployed at the incident scene. As I watched alone into the early morning hours the images pouring across my television screen or at the fire station with my brother and sister firefighters, I began to contemplate the journey that lay ahead for our nation’s fire and emergency services. We will be forever changed by the events of 9-11. The most recent accounts have identified over three hundred thirty seven confirmed or unaccounted for firefighters, twenty-three law enforcement officers and over five thousand four hundred missing civilians. Rescue efforts remain the focus, with the realization that the probability of live rescues diminishes with each passing hour as the first week of Herculean efforts draws to a close.
The fabric that binds us within the fire and emergency services, the true bonds of brother and sisterhood in this proudest of professions can not be more poignantly depicted than the image of the three brother FDNY firefighters raising the American flag amidst the mountains of rubble and debris where once stood the World Trade Center. Each and every one of us understands the undertakings during the initial stages of operations at the WTC. We, the fire and emergency service providers protect the heart and soul of our respective communities. We understand the risks and challenges affecting our commitment to protect life and property and to meet those challenges armed with our training, preparedness and tools of our trade. We are the first ones in and the last ones out. The challenges ahead will be immense as the rescue efforts at Ground Zero evolve into the recovery mode of operation, and the continued efforts to bring home- back to quarters these missing firefighters.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, we will be witness to ever changing events in this continuing journey. We will share in the pain, grief and emotions that have become so deeply rooted inside of all of us in the course of these events in NYC and in our nations’ capital. For those who provided direct or support service to the events at the WTC, and those who may yet be called upon to render aide in the weeks and months ahead, each of us understands the calling and we also understand the pain. For each and everyone firefighter, rescue and ems provider would, if they could, would be side by side with those working at Ground Zero.
We must remain vigilant to our own community’s risk potential for future events and incidents and must strive to reduce the gap between our capabilities and those identified deficiencies. We must plan and train for the worst, for it’s not a matter of IF , it’s just a matter of WHEN. Our nation’s fire and emergency services have begun a journey, one that no one could have imagined, yet one that each will meet head- on. Remain safe, stay strong, and meet the challenges of your next alarm, with faith and the foundation of principles that have made our fire services what they are. We are all part of a brotherhood, we share a common belief and mission-we know our duty, we are firefighters, and will answere the call. (September, 2001)
Honor and Remembrance
Remember and honor the sacrifices of 09.11.01 and the continuing sacrifices that are being made today by those fire, law enforcement and emergency services workers, support personnel and civilians that worked the recovery efforts at Ground Zero in the weeks and months afterwards who are dying or are afflicted by the lingering effects of exposure at the site. Remember the surviving families of those lost, remember the firefighters; who they were and remember who we are, and what we do each and every day in the streets of America. May We Never Forget. Honor and Remembrance 343…
Houston (Texas) firefighters followed the “textbook approach” in fighting a blaze at a high-rise building on the 27th floor Monday night August 30, 2010 when a 4th Alarm was transmitted for operations at a high rise building fire, deploying nearly 175 firefighting personnel. Seven firefighters were injured with non life-threatening. A broken pipe hampered firefighting operations leaving companies without a water source for a half-hour before they could resume structural fire fighting operations.
The fire was located at the JPMorgan Chase building (formerly the Gulf Building) at 712 Main Street, a 36-story structure, which dates to 1929 and was once the tallest in Houston. Reports indicate the building was being retrofitted with a sprinkler system that had yet to reach the upper floors. Go here for a link to the building profile.
A Mayday call was transmitted due to a firefighter who became separated in a dark and smoky stairwell but was promptly located.
The Newest radio show on FireFighter Netcast.com at Blogtalk Radio…
Taking it to the Streets with Christopher Naum.
On the Air Monthly on Firefighter Netcast.com.
A Buildingsonfire.com Series and Firefighter Netcast.com Production.
Advancing Firefighter Safety and Operational Integrity for the Fire Service through provocative insights and dynamic discussions dedicated to the Art and Science of Firefighting and the Traditions of the Fire Service.