July 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

 

Searching for occupants is what one of the six victims was doing

NYC-Firefighter Killed

The following information is a breakdown of the details of those members in the fire service who died while operating “on-duty” as defined by the United States Fire Administration. For more information on this definition and that of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s definition of “line of duty death” read “On Duty & Line of Duty: What Is the Difference?” The information presented is not meant to distract from the emotional toll felt by the families and coworkers. It is instead meant to remind us to look greater at the record of fatalities and in comparison to previous years as well as be a measure of substance when used in discussions.

Six on-duty deaths occurred in July, two of which involved activities directly related to firefighting (advancing hoselines, searching, ventilation). Unfortunately the first death of the month highlights the consequences of failing to wear a seatbelt. On 1 July a Louisiana volunteer line officer was killed in a crash while returning from a residential structure fire [1]. The 52-year old captain was operating apparatus when, on a curve, the vehicle drifted off the roadway. The victim over-corrected, crossed the center line and overturned in a ditch. He was ejected and pinned underneath the apparatus [2].

On July 5, fire claimed the life of the second victim. A 40-year old career line officer was killed while searching for occupants in a residential high-rise in New York City [3]. News reports indicate that the victim became trapped by hoarder conditions inside the fire apartment on the 19th floor of a 21-story building in Brooklyn [4]. This became the third incident where a firefighter was killed in a multi-family dwelling as well as the third victim involved in a fire behavior-related event (Toledo and Boston the other two).

Four days later another firefighter would die while operating inside a residential structure fire. On 9 July a Texas career firefighter collapsed on the second floor of a singe-family dwelling [5]. The rapid intervention team removed the victim to the exterior where CPR was performed. The nature and cause of death are still listed as “unknown” per USFA data (federal and state investigations are still ongoing) but local news reports carry the county medical examiner’s conclusion of death due to smoke inhalation (see end note about intubation) [6, 7]. Also uncertain in this fatality was the property status. Local news reports used the term “vacant” to describe the structure but it was determined, by contacting the department, that the term is being used to indicate no one was inside at the time of the fire. USFA data also reflects this under Fixed Property Type: Residential. The 46-year old victim was reportedly advancing a hoseline to the second floor as part of a search for occupants. His is the first fatality to occur in 1- and 2-family dwellings and the third to involve advancing a hoseline inside a residential structure.

On that same day the fire service experienced a fatality involving the oldest victim of the month, a 67-year old volunteer firefighter in Colorado [8]. The victim had participated in the rescue of an injured hiker when he suffered a fatal heart attack while hiking out of the scene once operations had concluded. This was our first heart attack of the month. It must be stated that while the victim’s activity type is listed “Search and Rescue” his duty during death is listed as “Returning”.

21 July saw our first fatality of the month involving a chief officer. A Louisiana volunteer fire chief complained to members of shoulder pain and not feeling well after responding to a EMS call [9]. The 62-year old victim suffered a heart attack at home and was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Our final firefighter fatality of the month involves a 21-year old wildland contract firefighter [10]. On 29 July the victim was involved in a fall while on duty while assigned to a fire.

While every firefighter fatality is tragic, the month of July was especially tragic on the fireground. Even so, the data to date reflects notable positive signs. Seven months had passed and we had not had a firefighter killed inside a vacant or abandoned building. Nor had we a firefighter killed in structural collapse while fighting a fire. The majority of our interior firefighting deaths involved multiple family dwellings and in July we had only one death in a single-family dwelling. The downside still reflects losses due to lack of seat belt use, heart attack and victims over the age of 65 (three to date in July). An interesting note is that by the end of July chief and line officers accounted for 29 of the victims, 11 more than firefighters (including wildland).

Data in Detail

(Number in parentheses is YTD as of posting)

Deaths involving Disorientation: 0

Deaths involving Building Collapse during Fire: 0

Deaths involving Flashover, Backdraft, Explosive Incident: 1 (5) (Toledo: 2) (Boston: 2) (New York: 1)

Boston “became trapped by fire conditions”

New York, implied to have been burned while trapped

Deaths in 1- and 2-Family Dwellings: 1 (1)

Deaths in Multi-Family Dwellings: 1 (4) (Toledo: 2) (Boston: 2) (New York: 1)

Deaths in Educational, Institutional, Commercial and Industrial Occupancies: 0 (New Jersey) (1)

1: Fall from roof of restaurant while performing ventilation (New Jersey)

Deaths in Vacant/Abandoned Structures: 0

Multi-Fatality Incidents: 0 (2)

Boston, MA: 2 victims

Toledo, OH: 2 victims

 

Nature of Death

Asphyxiation: 0

Burns: 1 (3)

Cerebrovascular Accident: 0 (1)

Crushed: 0 (1)

Drowning: 0

Exposure: 0

Heart Attack: 2 (26)

Not Stated: 0 (1)

Other: 0 (3)

Trauma: 1 (7)

Unknown: 1 (8)

 

Cause of Death

Assault: 0 (1)

Caught/Trapped: 1 (5)

Collapse: 0

Exposure: 0

Fall: 0 (3)

Lost: 0

Other: 0 (1)

Stress/Overexertion: 2 (29)

Struck by: 0 (1)

Trauma: 0

Vehicle Collision: 1 (5)

Unknown: 1 (5)

 

Average Age: 48

Youngest: 21

Oldest: 67

Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: 1 (3)

Volunteer firefighter 19-years old or younger who died responding to alarm or station: 0

 

Volunteer: 3 (30)

Career: 2 (25)

(1 victim listed as Wildland Full-Time)

 

Rank/Position

Fire Chief: 1 (8)

Deputy Chief: 0 (1)

Assistant Chief: 0 (4)

Battalion Chief: 0 (1)

Major: 0

Captain: 1 (7)

Lieutenant: 1 (7)

Fire Crew Supervisor: 0 (1)

Firefighter: 2 (18)

1: Wildland Full-Time

Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 0

Pilot: 0 (1)

Recruit/Trainee: 0

Driver/Operator/Engineer: 0 (2)

Fire-Police: 0

Department of Defense: 0

Chaplain: 0 (1)

 

Deaths Involving Lack of Seatbelt Use: 1 (2)

Deaths Involving Apparatus Accidents: 1 (4)

 

Fireground Assignment/Activity at Time of Death

Incident Command: 0 (1)

(Brush/Grass or Other Outdoor Fire (excluding Wildland): 1)

Fire Attack: 1 (2)

Advancing Hoseline: 1 (5)

1: listed as such but narrative says fell ill while working at scene and news report says was outside of building

3: During residential fire (Boston, Houston)

(1: During outdoor fire)

Search: 1 (4)

Deaths where occupants were known to be out of fire structure: 0

(1: Victim killed in secondary collapse while evacuating occupants)

Extrication: 0 (1)

Vent (Roof): 0 (1)

(1: Commercial structure (restaurant))

Pump Operations: 0 (1)

Water Supply: 0 (1)

Overhaul/Salvage: 0

On Scene: 0 (2)

Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus: 1 (1)

Death As a Result of EMS Exposure: 0

 

Deaths Which Occurred During Training: 0 (6)

Department of Defense, Military fire-service LODDs: 0

Deaths Linked to 11 September 2001: 0

 

Deaths Which Occurred Outside the “Traditional” Line of Duty Definition: 2 (26)

1: Victim suffered a heart attack while leaving scene involving an injured hiker

1: Victim reported being ill after EMS call, suffered heart attack at home

 

It is always important to reiterate that the discussion of the details in the reporting of these deaths is not meant to diminish the loss. Each number is a person mourned by a family, friends and coworkers. What is intended in this and related writing is that it is important for the fire service to be aware of the details in our on-duty death numbers. Blindly saying that 100 or so firefighters die each year, as well as saying “we’ve lost too many” each time a fatality occurs is turning a blind eye to the data. By understanding the details in the recording we can be more aware of trends, both good and bad, in our efforts to reduce these fatalities.

References

1. Captain Robert Thomas, Bienville Parish Fire Protection District 7, LA

2. Unrestrained firefighter dies in Bienville Parish crash, KTSB

3. Gordon “Matt” Matthew Ambelas, Fire Department City of New York

4. Brooklyn Fatal Fire Highlights Hoarding Dangers, FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, July 2014

5. Daniel Groover, Houston Fire Department

6. Cause of Houston Firefighter’s Death Announced, FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, July 2014

7. “”They had a hard time intubating him because of burns to his mouth and throat.”” Houston Firefighter Dies from House Fire Injuries, FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, July 2014

8. Richard L. Marchman, Indian Peaks Fire Protection District

9. Billy Glen Norris, Sr. Lecompte Volunteer Fire Department

10. Matthew David Goodnature, Fremont-Winema National Forrest

Related

January 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

February 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

March 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

April 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

May 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

June On-Duty Deaths in Detail

Top photo: New York City firefighters work at the scene of a fire at public-housing high-rise early Sunday, July 6, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. A fire department spokesman says Lt. Gordon Ambelas died at Woodhull Medical Center late Saturday night, July 5, after he was pulled from the building unconscious. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

 

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BioPicBill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Public Safety, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, JEMS.com, LawOfficer.com and FireEMSBlogs.com. Bill started in the fire service, as a third generation firefighter in 1986, on the eastern shore of Maryland and then continued after moving to Prince George’s County. He served as a volunteer sergeant and lieutenant at Hyattsville. Bill’s writing has been on Firehouse.com, Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation.com, the Jones and Bartlett 2010 edition of “Fire Officer: Principles and Practice”, The Secret List and Tinhelmet.com. His recent writing on firefighter behavioral health has been nominated for 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.

 

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