Increasing heat, crowded entrance, radio not used and victim 15 feet from the door.
On this day in 2004 a Texas career probationary firefighter became separated from his crew and died while fighting a fire in a residential structure. Four other firefighters were injured as intensifying fire conditions drove the initial companies out of the structure. When the incident commander was advised of firefighters down a PAR was conducted and determined that the victim was missing.
This photo shows (X) where the victim was found, facing toward the door. There was an approximate 4 foot distance between the brick column on the right and the corner of the wall on the left. This photo was taken from the interior of the house, looking toward the front door. (NIOSH photo)
"At approximately 1519, the point in time that the front door was forced open, the IC noted that smoke rolled out at the mid-level of the door. EL-1 (Lt. and two fire fighters) immediately went inside with the line (it was later determined that EL-1 progressed approximately 15 to 20 feet into the structure) and E-2 entered immediately after EL-1. At about the same time the crews were making entry, the IC was informed by a neighbor that if there was a car in the garage, the resident was at home. At 1520 the IC requested E-2 to bring a second line stretched around to the right side of the garage and ordered that the garage be opened. The IC asked E-2 if that could be handled, but there was no response from E-2. At this point, the E-2 crew had already entered the structure with the EL-1 crew and had initiated search and rescue operations. At 1521, E-3 arrived and was assigned to be the rapid intervention team (RIT). The garage door was not opened. (Note: After extinguishment it was determined that there was no car in the garage.)"
"Meanwhile, due to congestion (6 firefighters) immediately inside the door, the E-5 crew staged at the entranceway on side-A. When the EL-1 and E-2 crews made entry, they came into contact with the back of the brick fireplace (Diagram 1) directly in front of and approximately 4 feet inside the front entrance of the structure. The crews (2 Lt’s and 4 firefighters) both turned to the right of the fireplace to enter the structure, and began searching for the seat of the fire. Members from E-2 were operating a thermal imaging camera (TIC) in the immediate vicinity of the EL-1 crew / hand line. It was stated by the Lt. from EL-1 that he thought that the victim might have stayed at the front door to feed hose. The Lt. and firefighter from EL-1 (nozzle-man) advanced the line, and the nozzle-man reportedly hit a window with a stream at the west end of the house, which broke out. The EL-1 Lt. and the nozzle-man then advanced the hose line further into the structure, and the nozzle-man told his Lt. that it was too hot, and that his hands were “burning up”. The EL-1 Lt. told him to hit the area to the left at ceiling level, which was done and the fire blackened down. The EL-1 Lt. then told the nozzle-man that the fire was also to the right. The hand line was opened again for a longer burst, then it was shut down again. It was at this point that the nozzle-man was forced to set down the hand line, handing the nozzle to the EL-1 Lt., and stating that he was too hot. The Lt. from EL-1 stated that fire immediately began rolling down to about knee level above the floor. All interior firefighters were immediately overcome by intense heat and flames. The Lt. from EL-1 stated that the Lt. from E-2 was trying to communicate with him, but he could not understand what he was saying. All he heard was yelling and a muffled voice. (Note: it was later stated by the Lt. from E-2 that he was trying to convey that they needed to bail out.) At this point, the fire intensified further to the left and right, and it was reported that all at once it sounded like firefighters were yelling “back out, back out” and “bail out.” Also at that point, the EL-1 Lt. yelled to the E-2 Lt. that they needed to back out. The EL-1 and E-2 Lts. stated that they yelled for everyone to get out, and it was about that time that the EL-1 Lt. believed that he, himself, was on fire. The EL-1 Lt. then set the nozzle down and followed other firefighters and the hand line out."
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:
- ensure that a complete size-up is conducted prior to making an offensive attack.
- ensure that risk vs. gain is evaluated prior to making entry in fire-involved structures.
- develop standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for advancing a hose line in high-wind conditions.
- ensure that team continuity is maintained.
- ensure that a backup hose line is pulled and in place prior to entry into fire-involved structures.
- consider using a backup manual personal accountability safety system (PASS) device in combination with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) equipped with integrated PASS devices.
- provide SCBA face pieces that are equipped with voice amplifiers for improved interior communications.
- ensure that hose lines are not pulled from the burning structure when it is possible that a missing firefighter is in the structure.
- train firefighters on initiating emergency traffic (Mayday-Mayday) and manually activating their PASS alarm when they become lost, disoriented, or trapped.
- instruct firefighters to not overcrowd the area of the interior attack team.
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