Rhetorical Lesson No.10Profiling and Pets

If VSP is to reduce risk of injury and death it should apply to searching for the Golden Doodle, right?

This month NIOSH released the firefighter fatality investigation report of the Worcester, Massachusetts fire that claimed the life of Firefighter Jon Davis and injured seriously injured Firefighter Brian Carroll [1]. The December 8, 2011 fire was made more tragic by the facts that the two were involved in a second search for an occupant reportedly still inside [2]. Recognizing the risk, after crews had been earlier removed due to deteriorating conditions, chief officers made the decision to go back in and conduct another search [3]. Four minutes after entry the rear of the three-story triple decker collapsed. It was later learned that the occupant reportedly inside had left prior to the fire department’s arrival. [4]

Within the NIOSH report is the recommendation that all fire departments should conduct occupant survivability profiling at all structure fires. A hotly debated topic OSP, or VSP, is praised, condemned and confusing to many. Some believe that drawing the line on who is going to live and who is already dead as you arrive on the scene is slightly shy of ‘playing God.’ Others find it a useful tool in the size-up toolbox noting that actual occupant rescues, when compared to the total number of fires, is really quite low. Mixed in the middle are those who believe the VSP is no more different and a basic part of COAL WAS WEALTH or WALLACE WAS HOT.

With the persistence of the missing occupant’s roommate stating a victim was still inside, the incident commander made the calculated decision to conduct a second search. They obviously knew of the risks, since the crews had all been evacuated from the building earlier, but had determined that another shot might prove positive. Unfortunately it did not and the lessons pointed out to us include that they made what should be widely understood as a logical choice and not one based on bravado.

In the early morning hours an EMS crew arrived on the scene and had reported that they were removing occupants from the building. With heavy fire in the fire, the first-due engine ran a hoseline inside in support of a reported occupant trapped on the second floor. 19 minutes later the incident commander has all companies withdraw from the structure due to deteriorating conditions on the second and third floors. 17 minutes after that, one engine company and the rescue company are sent to look for the victim. Seven minutes later the collapse occurs [5].

The NIOSH report provides the details involving the reports of the victim still inside,

While outside in the street, the R-1 Lieutenant heard discussions involving a civilian insisting that his friend was still inside the burning structure. The civilian said he believed the missing person was in the bedroom on the second floor near the rear C/D corner. Both the R-1 Lieutenant and one of the R-1 crew members talked to the civilian separately to see if they were getting the same information. Because the civilian was insisting that his friend was still inside the structure and likely to be in the rear bedroom, the R-1 Lieutenant talked to Command about taking the R-1 crew back inside. The Safety Officer also joined the discussion about the possibility of a secondary interior search. The heavy fire at the rear of the building was knocked down. There were reports of ceiling collapses on the 2nd and 3rd floors but a structural collapse was not considered likely since triple decker structures typically (historically) had not collapsed under the existing conditions. The decision was made that R-1 would conduct a second search on the second floor.

The IC radioed E-2 and E-12 to get their status. Both crews reported that they were working on water supply for the ladder trucks. The IC stated that he needed an engine company to back up Rescue 1 who was preparing to re-enter the structure for a secondary search. The E-2 Lieutenant said they would back up Rescue 1. The IC instructed E-2 and E-12 to back up the R-1 crew with hose lines. The secondary search was focused on an area at the rear of the second floor that the fire department had not been able to reach before the structure was evacuated.

Lessons learned from the report specific to this rescue attempt expound on VSP. The investigation recognizes that today’s fireground is fluid; tactics do not match current fire behavior conditions and that the specific area to be searched was not able to be reached earlier due to fire conditions [6].

Flash forward to today, in Rhode Island, and we present you with a rhetorical question. In North Smithfield firefighters responded to a house fire as a result of a likely lightning strike. First arriving crews had significant fire conditions that warranted an exterior or defensive operation. “Fire Chief Joel Jillson says by the time crews arrived, the roof had collapsed and smoke and flames could be seen through the windows.”[7] The homeowner’s dog was still inside and three firefighters were sent in to search for the pet. Fortunately the search was successful and other than one firefighter treated for heat exhaustion, all went well. The department was able to feature to the public its training in animal CPR [8].

Evidently the dog was succumbing to the products of combustion. As it worked out the risk to firefighters had a positive return. But what if it didn’t? What if despite their efforts, the dog had succumbed to the effects of cyanide and carbon monoxide? More important is what if one of the firefighters was killed? After all, they had a well advanced fire and collapse on arrival. It's not a crtitism against the North Smithfield firefighters, who after all worked this fire in their own accord, but a question that needs to be asked. 

Isn’t what’s good for the human good for the pet, as far as any 'don't go' recommendations?



1. “Career fire fighter dies and another is injured following structure collapse at a triple decker residential fire – Massachusetts” NIOSH

2. “Worcester Firefighter Killed, Another Injured in Collapse While Doing Secondary Search” FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation

3. “Family of Fallen Worcester Firefighter Support Department Decisions” FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation

4. “Body Not Found in Collapse That Killed Worcester Firefighter” FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation

5. Timeline from NIOSH investigative report

6. “Recommendation #4: Fire departments should use risk management principles including occupant survivability profiling at all structure fires.” NIOSH report

7. “Rhode Island Firefighters Resuscitate Dog Trapped in Blaze” FireRescue Magazine

8. “Dog's life saved following house fire” WPRI



Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the FireEMSBlogs.com network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

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