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
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;
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.
On what began as an uneventful Saturday night twenty years ago, a fire on the 22nd floor of the 38-story Meridian Bank Building, also known as One Meridian Plaza, was reported to the Philadelphia Fire Department on February 23, 1991 at approximately 2040 hours and went on to burned for more than 19 hours.
The fire caused three firefighter fatalities (LODD) and injuries to 24 firefighters.
PFD Line of Duty Deaths:
Captain David P. Holcombe, age 52
Firefighter Phyllis McAllister, age 43
Firefighter James A. Chappell, age 29
The 12-alarms brought 51 engine companies, 15 ladder companies, 11 specialized units, and over 300 firefighters to the scene.
It was one of the largest high-rise office building fire in modern American history –completely consuming eight floors of the building –and was controlled only when it reached a floor that was protected by automatic sprinklers.
The Fire Department arrived to find a well-developed fire on the 22nd floor, with fire dropping down to the 21st floor through a set of convenience stairs.
Heavy smoke had already entered the stairways and the floors immediately above the 22nd.
Fire attack was hampered by a complete failure of the building’s electrical system and by inadequate water pressure, caused in part by improperly set pressure reducing valves on standpipe hose outlets.
The USFA published a technical report (USFA-TR-049) on the One Meridian Plaza fire that is still available for download from the USFA web site, HERE. The report clearly defined the need in 1991, for built-in fire protection systems and reiterated the fact that fire departments alone cannot expect or be expected to provide the level of fire protection that modem high-rises demand. That fire protection must be built-in to the structures. This was clearly illustrated in this event when the One Meridian Plaza fire was finally stopped when it reached a floor where automatic sprinklers had been installed.One Meridian Plaza was a 38-story high-rise office building, located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, in an area of high-rise and mid-rise structures. The building had three underground levels, 36 above ground occupiable floors, two mechanical floors (12 and 38), and two rooftop helipads. The building was rectangular in shape, approximately 243 feet in length by 92 feet in width (approximately 22,400 gross square feet), with roughly 17,000 net usable square feet per floor. Site work for construction began in 1968, and the building was completed and approved for occupancy in 1973.
Construction was classified by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections as equivalent to BOCA Type 1B construction which requires 3-hour fire rated building columns, 2-hour fire rated horizontal beams and floor/ ceiling systems, and l-hour fire rated corridors and tenant separations. Shafts, including stairways, are required to be 2-hour fire rated construction, and roofs must have l-hour fire rated assemblies.
The building frame was structural steel with concrete floors poured over metal decks. All structural steel and floor assemblies were protected with spray-on fireproofing material. The exterior of the building was covered by granite curtain wall panels with glass windows attached to the perimeter floor girders and spandrels. The building utilized a central core design, although one side of the core is adjacent to the south exterior wall. The core area was approximately 38 feet wide by 124 feet long and contained two stairways, four banks of elevators, two HVAC supply duct shafts, bathroom utility chases, and telephone and electrical risers.
SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES
Origin and Cause: The fire started in a vacant 22nd floor office in a pile of linseed oil-soaked rags left by a contractor. Fire Alarm System The activation of a smoke detector on the 22nd floor was the first notice of a possible fire. Due to incomplete detector coverage, the fire was already well advanced before the detector was activated.
Building Staff Response: Building employees did not call the fire department when the alarm was activated. An employee investigating the alarm was trapped when the elevator opened on the fire floor and was rescued when personnel on the ground level activated the manual recall. The Fire Department was not called until the employee had been rescued.
Alarm Monitoring Service: The private service which monitors the fire alarm system did not call the Fire Department when the alarm was first activated. A call was made to the building to verify that they were aware of the alarm. The building personnel were already checking the alarm at that time.
Electrical Systems: Installation of the primary and secondary electrical power risers in a common unprotected enclosure resulted in a complete power failure when the fire-damaged conductors shorted to ground. The natural gas powered emergency generator also failed.
Fire Barriers: Unprotected penetrations in fire-resistance rated assemblies and the absence of fire dampers in ventilation shafts permitted fire and smoke to spread vertically and horizontally.
Ventilation openings in the stairway enclosures permitted smoke to migrate into the stairways, complicating firefighting.
Unprotected openings in the enclosure walls of 22nd floor electrical closet permitted the fire to impinge on the primary and secondary electrical power risers.
Standpipe System and Pressure Reducing Valves (PRVs): Improperly installed standpipe valves provided inadequate pressure for fire department hose streams using 1 3/ 4-inch hose and automatic fog nozzles. Pressure reducing valves were installed to limit standpipe outlet discharge pressures to safe levels. The PRVs were set too low to produce effective hose streams; tools and expertise to adjust the valve settings did not become available until too late.
Locked Stairway Doors: For security reasons, stairway doors were locked to prevent reentry except on designated floors. (A building code variance had been granted to approve this arrangement.) This compelled firefighters to use forcible entry tactics to gain access from stairways to floor areas.
Fire Department Pre-Fire Planning: Only limited pre-fire plan information was available to the Incident Commander. Building owners provided detailed plans as the fire progressed.
Firefighter Fatalities:Three firefighters from Engine Company 11 died on the 28th floor when they became disoriented and ran out of air in their SCBAs.
Exterior Fire Spread: “Autoexposure” Exterior vertical fire spread resulted when exterior windows failed. This was a primary means of fire spread.
Structural Failures:Fire-resistance rated construction features, particularly floor-ceiling assemblies and shaft enclosures (including stair shafts), failed when exposed to continuous fire of unusual intensity and duration.
Interior Fire Suppression Abandoned: After more than 11 hours of uncontrolled fire growth and spread, interior firefighting efforts were abandoned due to the risk of structural collapse.
Automatic Sprinklers:The fire was eventually stopped when it reached the fully sprinklered 30th floor. Ten sprinkler heads activated at different points of fire penetration.
The three firefighters who died were attempting to ventilate the center stair tower:They radioed a request for help stating that they were on the 30th floor. After extensive search and rescue efforts, their bodies were later found on the 28th floor. They had exhausted all of their air supply and could not escape to reach fresh air. At the time of their deaths, the 28th floor was not burning but had an extremely heavy smoke condition.
After the loss of three personnel, hours of unsuccessful attack on the fire, with several floors simultaneously involved in fire, and a risk of structural collapse, the Incident Commander withdrew all personnel from the building due to the uncontrollable risk factors. The fire ultimately spread up to the 30th floor where it was stopped by ten automatic sprinklers.
Take the time to review this report and examine some of similar issues affecting the fire service today in the areas of staffing and resources, construction and materials, building codes, built-in fire suppression systems, training, pre-fire planning, fire load, fire dynamics and the current methodologies on wind-drive fire theory.
Also take a look at the issues that affected operations at the 1988 Interstate Bank Fire in downtown Los Angeles, California.
Building Overview NarrativeOne Meridian Plaza was a 38-story high-rise office building in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Located across from Philadelphia’s City Hall, it was originally constructed in 1972 as the headquarter building for the Girard Bank. By 1991 it housed 27 tenants, and was the regional headquarters for Meridian Bancorp, which occupied eight floors (Menkus 1992). The rectangular building was 243 feet long and 92 feet wide, and contained about 17,000 net usable square feet per floor. Refer to Plan below for a typical floor plan from One Meridian Plaza. The lower two floors of the tower were below grade, floors 12 and 38 housed mechanical equipment, and the roof contained access via two helipads. The building frame was structural steel with composite metal decking, and the structure was also joined on the east side by a connecting link and stairwell to the 34-story Girard Trust Building. In compliance with all codes available in 1972, the building was classified and fireproofed as equivalent to BOCA Type 1B construction (Chubb 1991). The structural steel was protected with spray-on fireproofing, and sprinklers were not required by code, so they were not installed. In 1984 Philadelphia adopted the National Building Code, which required that newly constructed buildings 75 feet high be fully sprinklered. One Meridian Plaza was grandfathered and not required to install sprinklers due to the high installation and retrofit costs (Post March 1991). By 1991, only nine floors of the building had working sprinkler systems. These systems had been installed at the request of the tenants occupying those levels (Mangan 1991).
Typical Floor Plan (22nd Floor)
Here’s a story posted today at the Phildalphia Daily News with insights on this anniversary
When Jack Bloomer and the other firefighters arrived at One Meridian Plaza that cold February night in 1991, flames were encompassing the building more than 20 stories above, leaping from floor to floor. Smoke poured into the air, and broken glass rained down.
“It was obvious when we pulled up it was an ugly-looking job,” Bloomer, 61, remembered yesterday.
He had no idea how bad it would get.
By the time the 12-alarm fire was declared under control 19 hours later, three firefighters were dead, 12 others were injured and a Center City high-rise was lost. The blaze, 20 years ago today, changed the city’s skyline and the way the nation fights fires.
“When that fire happened, it was on the news all over the world,” said Chris Jelenewicz, engineering program manager at the Maryland-based Society of Fire Protection Engineers. “The One Meridian fire was one of the most significant fires in the history of high-rise buildings.”
The fire changed Bloomer, who was driving Engine 11 that night. With him were Capt. David Holcombe and Firefighters Phyllis McAllister and James Chappell.
Bloomer’s the only one who made it home. Read the entire article HERE
Jack Bloomer was the only survivor from his platoon. David Holcombe, Phyllis McAllister and James Chappell perished in the Feb. 23 high-rise inferno
Other Insights:Good Article related to design, construction and failure issues HERE
Excerpts: At about 8 p.m. on Saturday, 23 February 1991, linseed oil-soaked rags left behind by a cleaning crew burst into flames on the 22nd floor of the 38-story One Meridian Plaza in downtown Philadelphia. The fire quickly spread, unimpeded by fire sprinklers, throughout the 22nd floor and then upward. Sprinklers were not required by the City’s building code at the time of construction and were being added to the building only as opportunity presented itself.
The twelve-alarm fire burned for 18 hours. The extreme heat caused window glass and frames to melt and concrete floor slabs and steel beams to buckle and sag dramatically. Large shards of window glass fell from the facade, cutting through fire hoses on the ground around the building. Three firefighters were trapped on a fully engulfed floor, and efforts to rescue them failed.
The fire would not yield and there were increasing concerns about the stability of the structure. Fire officials called off the attack and allowed the fire to “free burn,” concentrating their efforts on containing the fire to this building. When the fire reached the 30th floor, a tenant-installed fire-sprinkler system was activated, and the worst high-rise fire in U.S. history was finally brought under control.
Other Notable High-Rise Fires
First Interstate Bank Building – Los Angeles, California
On May 4, 1998, the 62-story First Interstate Bank Building in Los Angeles, California experienced a devastating fire that damaged five of the building’s floors before it was brought under control. It is thought that the fire was the result of an electrical malfunction, but the cause was actually never determined. The building was in the process of being retrofit with an automatic sprinkler system, which had been installed in about 90 percent of the building, but was not operational at the time of the fire. Security personnel dismissed initial fire and smoke alarms, which delayed the response of the fire department by almost 15 minutes. Also contributing to the spread of the fire was the large quantity of combustible materials on each floor, equipment penetrations and other openings, and a standpipe system that had been shut down due to the sprinkler installation. Firefighters were also forced to battle dangerous conditions that were created by the failure of the glass façade and its subsequent fall to the ground below. The fire was eventually extinguished with the internal standpipe system, but not before one death and over 50 million dollars worth of damage (Routley 1988).
Schomburg Plaza – New York, New York
The fire at Schomburg Plaza was unusual in the fact that it originated in the upper sections of a trash chute that serviced the 35-story apartment building. The March 22, 1987 fire started somewhere between the 27th and 29th floors, and then traveled up the trash chute and through the walls into surrounding apartments. Investigations following the fire found that sprinklers in the chute either failed to work because they were clogged, or were not actually connected to the piping system. It was also determined that the building was not built according to its plans, and therefore certain areas did not meet the two hour fire rating required by code. A final issue was the initial response to the fire and the misconception that it was a common compactor fire, as had been seen several times before. Neither firefighters, nor dispatchers realized the severity of the fire, and initially believed that it was under control, which created an even more dangerous situation. As a result of this fire, seven people lost their lives (Schaenman 1987).
High-Rise Condominium – Clearwater, Florida
A more recent high-rise fire occurred on June 28, 2002, in an 11-story condominium building in Clearwater, Florida. The fire originated in the kitchen of a fifth floor apartment, and instead of pulling the fire alarm and alerting the fire department, the tenant tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire. This delay allowed the blaze to grow for 17 minutes before the fire department was even notified. As firefighters arrived on the scene they encountered several problems, including radio communication issues, closed standpipe riser valves, and a damaged fire hydrant. Another issue was that some building residents ignored fire alarms and failed to evacuate, believing that it was false alarm. The building was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, and therefore several units and the central hallway were heavily damaged by fire, smoke, and water before the blaze was declared under control. In the end two people were killed and many more were injured. The tragedy resulted in one million dollars worth of damage and the installation of an automatic sprinkler system.
Feb. 24, 1991: A Medevac helicopter takes off from 15th Street about 1:30 a.m. Sunday to take urgently needed fresh air bottles to the roof. The bottles were not in time for three of the firefighters. (Mike Levin / Inquirer files)
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.
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.
Today December 3, 2010 marks the 11th anniversary of the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire that resulted in the line of duty death of six courages brother firefighters.
For those of you who remember this event, take the time to reflect and honor the sacrifice made this day; to those of you who have not heard about the fire before- take the time to learn about the incident, the firefighters, the building, the operational factors and challenges, the courage, fortitude and convictions that define the American Fire Service, it’s honor, tradition and brotherhood.
The Worcester Six;
Firefighter Paul Brotherton Rescue 1
Firefighter Jeremiah Lucey Rescue 1
Lieutenant Thomas Spencer Ladder 2
Firefighter Timothy Jackson Ladder 2
Firefighter James Lyons Engine 3
Firefighter Joseph McGuirk Engine
Take the time today or over the weekend to read for the first time or review both the USFA report and the NIOSH Report on the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire. Start thinking about or reminding yourself what it is that we do as firefighters, fire officers and commanders.
Reflect upon the incident parameters, the building, the report and conditions upon arrival, command and operational integrity, company level responsibilities and duties, command fortitude and accountability. Think about your understanding of building construction, operational demands and training and skill set competencies.
More importantly, think about the duty, honor, courage, integrity and sacrifice reflected in all the men and women on that day in 1999 and especially the brother firefighters who will always be known as the Worcester Six, but who were much, much more….
For a detailed overview of the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire, go to Commandsafety.comHERE for a comprehensive posting.
I recently posted an article on CommandSafety.com that addressed a series of Major Influencing Fire Service Reports, Issues and Focus areas that should be on your radar screen. This was also the theme at the premiere of Taking it to the Streets on Fire Fighter Netcast.com . As an emerging, practicing or upward mobile fire officer, commander or leader; those are but a few key ares that you must be knowledgeable in, have insights and proficiency based technical skills to function with a level of competencies demanded of, in today’s fire service.
After a recent training program, we discussed in a smaller group setting common, contributing and apparent causes related to three prominent fire incidents and reports that were shared both within the lecture program and also within the CS post. Based upon that dialog, the dynamic and passionate discussion and the frank, straight forward opinions I’m suggesting you take the time; three hours to read three reports and focus on the lesson learned, the gaps that were identified and the recommendations AND actions that were implemented to limit, if not eliminate the likely hood that a similar event could happen in that organization.
The continuing challenge is not allowing the circumstances and situations that were present at those events, cause you and your organization to have a History Repeating Event (HRE).
Set aside three hours for three reports; invest the time appropriately and focus your undivided attention. Think about those firefighters who answered that call, in the same manner and fashion as all of us do, when we board the apparatus and the company rolls out of quarters on the way to the alarm. The only difference…..they didn’t come home- you did. Learn, understand, comprehend, relate and apply.
Then take the time to share your insights with those within your inner circle and start recognizing that there’s likely something that you can go in your house or station, or organization that honors the sacrifices made by those LODD events your read about, so those lessons can be moved forward to make the job, a little bit safer.
Three for Three (343)
Prince William County (VA) Fire Rescue Kyle Wilson LODD Report
The Prince William County (VA) Department of Fire and Rescue published a comprehensive line of duty death report for Technician I Kyle R. Wilson on Saturday, January 26, 2008. Technician I Wilson was the first line of duty death in the Department’s 41-year history. The Department is sharing the LODD Investigative Report to honor Kyle, and in an effort to reduce and prevent firefighter line of duty deaths at the local, region, state, and national levels.
Technician Kyle Robert Wilson was 24-years old and was born in Olney, Maryland. He grew up in Prince William County and graduated from Hylton High School and George Mason University. He was an avid baseball and softball player. Technician Wilson joined the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue on January 23, 2006. Technician Kyle Wilson died in the line of duty on April 16, 2007 while performing search and rescue operations at a house fire on Marsh Overlook Drive, located in the Woodbridge area of Prince William County. On that day, Technician Wilson was part of the firefighter staffing on Tower 512 which responded to the house fire that was dispatched at 0603 hours. The Prince William County area was under a high wind advisory as a nor’eastern storm moved through the area. Sustained winds of 25 mph with gusts up to 48 mph were prevalent in the area at the time of the fire dispatch to Marsh Overlook Drive.
Initial arriving units reported heavy fire on the exterior of two sides of the single family house and crews suspected that the occupants were still inside the house sleeping because of the early morning hour. A search of the upstairs bedroom commenced for the possible victims. A rapid and catastrophic change of fire and smoke conditions occurred in the interior of the house within minutes of Tower 512’s crew entering the structure.
Technician Wilson became trapped and was unable to locate an immediate exit out of the hostile environment. Mayday radio transmissions were made by crews and by Technician Kyle Wilson of the life-threatening situation. Valiant and repeated rescue attempts to locate and remove Technician Wilson were made by the firefighting crews during extreme fire, heat and smoke conditions. Firefighters were forced from the structure as the house began to collapse on them and intense fire, heat and smoke conditions developed. Technician Wilson succumbed to the fire and the cause of death was reported by the medical examiner to be thermal and inhalation injuries.
The Department of Fire and Rescue immediately formed a multi-dimensional investigation team following the incident. The investigation team was comprised of five Department of Fire and Rescue uniform personnel and two external members from area fire departments. For eight months, the team thoroughly examined the events that occurred at the Marsh Overlook fire incident and identify the factors involved with the line of duty death of Technician I Kyle Wilson. The resulting report represents thousands of hours of effort to analyze fire and rescue operations and is a factual representation of the events that occurred. The report also provides a frame work for organizational level improvements.
The major factors in the line of duty death of Technician I Wilson were determined to be:
The initial arriving fire suppression force size.
The size up of fire development and spread.
The impact of high winds on fire development and spread.
The large structure size and lightweight construction and materials.
The rapid intervention and firefighter rescue efforts.
The incident control and management.
The Marsh Overlook fire incident was an immense fire fueled by extremely flammable building material products and a vicious wind. It was an environment where information gathering and decision making had to be performed in the time measurement of seconds. During the chain of events that occurred and under severe circumstances, fire and rescue personnel performed at exceptional levels.
During the repeated attempts to reach and rescue Technician I Wilson, personnel displayed heroic efforts and jeopardized their own safety. The Department will never forget the sacrifice that Technician Wilson made in an attempt to ensure others were safe. By sharing the knowledge gained from this very tragic and painful incident, the Department will ensure his sacrifice was not in vain and hope that other fire and rescue departments can avoid another similar occurrence.
Prince William County (VA) Fire and Rescue Web Site, HERE
Loudoun County (VA) Fire Rescue Significant Near Miss Event Report
On May 25, 2008, fire and rescue personnel from Loudoun County responded to a structure fire at 43238 Meadowood Court in Leesburg, Virginia. During the course of the incident, seven responders were injured. Of those injured, four firefighters received significant burn injuries, two firefighters sustained orthopedic injuries, and one EMS provider was treated for minor respiratory distress. To date, five of the injured personnel have returned to duty. Two firefighters continue to recover from their injuries, including one who was severely burned.
Given the severity of the injuries and magnitude of the event, an independent Investigative Team was assembled to review the incident. The Team was comprised of four Loudoun County personnel, three external members from area fire departments, and two resource/support personnel. The Team was tasked with reviewing “the events leading up to the incident, the incident operation(s), the firefighter MAYDAY(s), and incident mitigation.”
For three months, the Team thoroughly examined the events surrounding the Meadowood Court fire incident and identified the factors associated with the injury of personnel.
The Report contains the results of the Investigative Team’s comprehensive review and analysis.
SIGNIFICANT INJURY INVESTIGATIVE REPORT 43238 MEADOWOOD COURT MAY 25, 2008 Report HERE
Colerain Township (OH) Fire and EMS Department Final Report Investigation Analysis of the Squirrels Nest Lane Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths
The Colerain Township (OH) Fire and EMS Department under the leadership of Director and Chief G. Bruce Smith recently released its final report Investigation Analysis of the Squirrels nest Lane Firefighter Line of Duty Deathsrelated to the April 4, 2008 Double Line of Duty Death of a Captain and Firefighter. This investigative analysis and report, although specific to the events and conditions encountered during the conduct of operation at the residential occupancy at 5708 Squirrels nest Lane has pertinent and relevant insights, recommendations and factors that all Fire Service personnel, regardless of rank should read.
Taking it to the Streets had its premier July 21st on Firefighter Netcast.com with a lively and provoking discussion on “What’s on YOUR Radar Screen?” The program theme aligned with a recent posting on the same topic. Join me on the program were two prominent and nationally recognized fire service leaders, who I’m honored to have known for many years, Chief Billy Hayes and Chief Doug Cline; the program explored leading fire service issues affecting firefighter safety, training, credentialing and education; fireground operational variables related to the continuing changes in building construction, engineered systems and extreme fire behavior, and the emerging need for “Tactical Patience” as I’ve been exploring the relationships towards the need for tactical enhancements to our current fire suppression theory and firefighting models.
Both our guests provided cutting edge perspectives and commentary on the key issues that the fire service needs to have on their radar screen and the need for emerging and practicing fire officers and commanders to continually strive to increase skill sets and maintain a pulse on the leading issues affecting the fire service and apply emerging research and studies to increase operational capabilities, improve performance and enhance and promote firefighter safety and survival and operational integrity.
Although technical difficulties from the live feed coming from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore at the Firehouse Expo, precluded the ability to have the call-in segments of the program to work, the 120 minute program gave the listeners a wealth of information to talk over in the firehouse, at the kitchen table or in the apparatus bays.
The program is a Buildingsonfire.com Series and a Fire Fighter Netcast.com production, produced by John Mitchell and Rhett Fleitz. The live program segment will be edited and available for iTunes download soon. You can check out the other programming and shows produced by Fire Fighter Netcast.com HERE. Stay tuned for announcements on the next program date for Taking it to the Streets coming to you live from the IAFC Fire Rescue International Conference in Chicago in August.
Taking it to the Streets; Advancing Fire Fighter 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.
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.