This Day in LODD, Structure Fire HistoryDisorientation, Radio Problems and RITs Driven Out, Missouri 1999

Two rapid intervention teams forced to withdrawl from search for battalion chief.

On this day in 1999 a Missouri battalion chief became disoriented and failed to exit with others during a fire in a paper warehouse. Two rapid intervention teams were deployed but eventually ran out of air and were forced to withdrawl. Additional rapid intervention teams were assembed and the victim was found 1 1/2-hours after the initial alarm.

Area where the victim was found. (NIOSH photo)

From the NIOSH report:

"Pumper 18 and 24 arrived on the scene at 1820 hours and reported light smoke showing from the rear. At 1822 hours, all companies responding to the first alarm were on the scene. The Battalion Chief in Car 105 assumed command (IC) and requested a second alarm due to the size of the structure (approximately 300,000 square feet). The IC ordered the Battalion Chief (the victim) from Car 106 to enter the structure and assume interior command. The IC positioned his car in the southeast corner where the fire attack would take place and reported a size-up. The size-up indicated a large warehouse, approximately 200 feet by 300 feet, with light smoke at the south end (see Diagram 2 Apparatus Layout). The IC’s District Safety Officer (DSO) entered the warehouse and reported that employees were still inside. The IC ordered an employee evacuation and ordered the Battalion Chief from Car 104 to meet with the plant supervisor to make sure all employees were accounted for when he arrived on the scene. At 1825 hours, the IC reported to dispatch that they had paper burning. At approximately the same time, Car 104 arrived on the scene and informed the IC that all the employees were accounted for. The victim (interior command) reported to the IC that paper bales were on fire and that he thought that they could suppress the fires with several handlines."

"Fire fighters who were battling the fire had exited and reentered several times to refill their air bottles. Since visibility was poor, the victim radioed the IC and requested lights be placed at the dock doors so fire fighters could see their way out. He also requested a second RIT be placed in staging (not knowing that Heavy Rescue 1 had already been assigned as the second RIT). The IC informed him they were already in place. Car 104, who had entered to check conditions, reported to the IC that smoke conditions inside were untenable, and all fire fighters should be evacuated from the building. The IC radioed the victim and relayed the message from Car 104, requesting his opinion. The victim reported that conditions had worsened and agreed they should evacuate the structure. Fire fighters stated that at this point there was still little heat, but poor visibility at the floor level. The IC was also concerned the fire would compromise the integrity of the roof, since he had fire fighters on the roof. At 1912 hours, the IC requested that dispatch sound an emergency evacuation signal. The dispatch transmissions could only reach the tactical channel (channel 5A) so the IC keyed the talk-around channel mike and placed it in front of the channel 5A speaker to transmit the emergency evacuation signal over the talk-around channel. The IC ordered all companies to return to their apparatus and conduct roll-call. He also ordered all Fire Apparatus Operators (FAOs) to blow their air horns as another evacuation signal to fire fighters inside."

"Throughout the search, the victim radioed that he thought he was in the same location where he was when the smoke banked down (near the chain-link fence). At approximately 1928 hours, he said that he was out of air and was breathing off the floor and asked if all other personnel were accounted for. The IC noticed that his voice was labored and garbled. The IC asked the victim if he could manually activate his PASS device, but received no response. No further communications with the victim were received. At 1932 hours, dispatch advised the IC that the fourth 15-minute clock had expired and they would be starting a fifth. The IC then ordered dispatch to notify a mutual-aid department to respond with a thermal imaging camera."

NIOSH investigators concluded that to minimize similar occurrences, fire departments should:

  • ensure that the department’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are followed and refresher training is provided

  • ensure that all fire fighters performing fire fighting operations are accounted for

  • ensure that proper ventilation equipment is available and ventilation takes place when fire fighters are operating inside smoke-filled structures

  • ensure that one of the first-arriving engines be assigned to pump water into the building’s fire department sprinkler connection to reinforce the automatic sprinkler system

  • ensure that when entering or exiting a smoke-filled structure, fire fighters follow a hoseline, rope, or some other type of guide

  • ensure that fire fighters are equipped with a radio that does not bleedover, cause interference, or lose communication under field conditions

  •  ensure that when fire fighters suspect that they have been exposed to carbon monoxide that they notify their officer or the IC and receive the proper medical care

  • ensure that a rehabilitation area is designated when needed

  • ensure that the assigned Rapid Intervention Team(s) (RIT) complete search and rescue operations and are properly trained and equipped

  • ensure consistent use of Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) devices at all incidents and consider providing fire fighters with a PASS integrated into their Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus

  • develop and implement a SCBA preventative maintenance program to ensure that all SCBAs are adequately maintained.

Additionally, building owners, supervisory staff, or employees should:

  • ensure that fires are reported to the fire department immediately.

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