November 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

 

The third death of a safety officer and a surprise about benefits

baltsafetyofficerlg

 

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.

 

Nine deaths occurred in the month of November. The first was a career firefighter from South Carolina. On 1 November, the 29-year old firefighter/paramedic suffered a heart attack in his bunkroom in the early morning [1]. He was immediately treated and transported to a local hospital. The victim had reportedly responded to several emergency incidents and worked a fire prevention assignment in the hours leading up to his heart attack.

Our second fatality on November is an odd one. On 12 November Baltimore Fire Department companies responded to a residential dwelling fire in the afternoon. The victim, a 62-year old lieutenant, responded as the designated safety officer. At some point during the course of the incident, the safety officer entered an exposure (fire was in a rowhouse). Throughout the incident and after, the safety officer was unaccounted for. In the morning, after the discovery of his vehicle still at the scene and a search by an off-duty firefighter, his body was located in the same exposure [2]. The initial confusion began with a report that at approximately 0330 hours the safety officer was placed in service, without an acknowledgement. Fire department officials, in earlier press conferences, were unable to explain who placed the victim in service, why there was no acknowledgement and the wide time gap [3].

The autopsy lists his cause of death as accidental due to falling through a hole in the floor and that he died of smoke inhalation. The investigation is still ongoing and policies are under review. While he was located in a vacant building, for the purpose of recording specific data, this fatality does not translate to death in a vacant building. The victim was not involved in firefighting operations, the fire building was not vacant and USFA has not listed the property use as such. For these reasons, I have also not listed him among the first few areas of Data in Detail below. This may change depending upon information released once the investigation is completed.

The Baltimore fatality is the third involving a safety officer. The first occurred in May and involved cardiac arrest [4] and the second in August involved a heart attack [5].

 

A New Jersey career lieutenant died on 14 November, with just a little more of an hour left in the time span for his passing to be counted as an official on-duty death. At 0305 hours on 13 November, the victim had responded to what would be his last incident. he died at home on 15 November at 0152 hours, from a heart attack [6]. On the same day, a New York volunteer firefighter passed away after responding to an alarm, from cause not yet reported [7]. There is an interesting update to the New Jersey on-duty death. In the weeks after Lieutenant  Christopher Hunter’s death, his wife had taken their son to a doctor’s appointment. There she suddenly learned that she and her son no longer had health insurance. Under current law the Hunter family’s medical coverage ended upon the lieutenant’s termination of employment; his death. Because his death occurred within 24 hours of his shift, his passing is considered as an “active duty” death and not a line of duty death [8,9]. Confused?

The best I have been able to determine through available state information and discussions is that this applies to having occurred outside his shift hours and does not affect federal Public Safety Officer benefits. A bill, A4062, has been introduced in the New Jersey legislature to extend the family health coverage to six months for spouses and surviving dependents of public safety officers who had coverage but “did not die in the line of duty.” [10]

On 16 November a 46-year old career firefighter was found unresponsive in his station. His is the sixth on-duty death of the month and heart attack is listed as the nature of death [11]. Heart attack also claimed the next firefighter, a 57-year old volunteer in New York. On 18 November, the Summit Fire Department member, and former fire chief, had come inside the station after having cut up trees that had fallen on department property during a snow storm [12]. The work being done was considered part of the victim’s regular station maintenance duties.

The eighth on-duty death is a unique one. On 18 November the Cape May, New Jersey County Fire Coordinator responded to a fire in North Wildwood. The requirement that brought the victim to the scene was that the incident was a multiple alarm fire. The death of the 62-year old victim is not listed as having any part in fire suppression or incident command [13]. According to various news reports covering the death the fire coordinator immediately began experiencing chest pains when he arrived at the scene. He was immediately transported to a hospital where died the next day. One local report stated that the victim was sitting up in bed, talking, anxious to be discharged [14]. Pneumonia was considered, as was heart attack, in the nature of this fatality.

Cardiac arrest claimed a 51-year old volunteer fire marshal in Pennsylvania [15]. The victim was was in his home when the incident occurred, several hours after having responded to a medical call on 20 November.

The final fatality of the year occurred on 28 November. In Ohio, a 71-year old volunteer firefighter fell ill while working at the scene of a residential structure fire on 18 November [16]. The victim had driver a tanker to the scene and was operating in that capacity (pump operations) when he fell ill. He was transported to a local hospital and then flown to a cardiac intensive care unit where he remained until passing away. His nature of death is listed as a heart attack.

 

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.

 

Data in Detail

(Number in parentheses is YTD as of posting)

 

Deaths involving Disorientation: 0

Deaths involving Building Collapse during Fire: 0 (1) (Indiana: 1)

Deaths involving Flashover, Backdraft, Explosive Incident: 0 (6) (Toledo: 2) (Boston: 2) (New York: 1) (Connecticut: 1)

Boston “became trapped by fire conditions”

New York, implied to have been burned while trapped

Connecticut is implied based on news reports of firefighters having to evacuate, one bailing out from a window. No specific details have been released

Deaths in 1- and 2-Family Dwellings: 0 (1)

Deaths in Multi-Family Dwellings: 0 (5) (Toledo: 2) (Boston: 2) (New York: 1) (Connecticut: 1)

Deaths in Educational, Institutional, Commercial and Industrial Occupancies: 0 (2) (New Jersey, Indiana)

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: 1 (1)

Burns: 0 (3)

Cerebrovascular Accident: 0 (1)

Crushed: 0 (1)

Drowning: 0

Electrocution: 0 (1)

Exposure: 0

Heart Attack: 8 (38)

Not Stated: 0 (1)

Other: 0 (3)

Trauma: 0 (13)

Unknown: 0 (14)

 

Cause of Death

Assault: 0 (1)

Caught/Trapped: 0 (5)

Collapse: 0 (1)

Contact With: 0 (1)

Exposure: 0

Fall: 1 (4)

Lost: 0

Other: 0 (1)

Stress/Overexertion: 8 (42)

Struck by: 0 (1)

Trauma: 0

Vehicle Collision: 0 (10)

Unknown: 0 (11)

 

Average Age: 52

Youngest: 29

Oldest: 71

Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: (7)

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

 

Volunteer: 4 (44)

Career: 5 (36)

(1 victim listed as Wildland Full-Time)

(1 victim listed as Wildland Contract)

 

Rank/Position

County Fire Coordinator: 1 (1)

Fire Chief: 0 (10)

Deputy Chief: 0 (1)

Assistant Chief: 0 (7)

Battalion Chief: 0 (1)

Major: 0 (1)

Captain: 0 (9)

Lieutenant: 2 (9)

Safety Officer: 0 (1)

Fire Crew Supervisor: 0 (1)

Firefighter: 4 (30)

1: Wildland Full-Time

Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 0

Pilot: 0 (2)

Recruit/Trainee: 0

Driver/Operator/Engineer: 1 (3)

Fire-Police: 0

Fire Marshal: 1 (1)

Department of Defense: 0

Chaplain: 0 (1)

 

Deaths Involving Lack of Seatbelt Use: 0 (3)

Deaths Involving Apparatus Accidents: 0 (6)

 

Fireground Assignment/Activity at Time of Death

Incident Command: 0 (1)

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

Fire Attack: 0 (3)

Advancing Hoseline: 0 (7)

Search: 0 (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: 1 (3)

Water Supply: 0 (1)

Overhaul/Salvage:

On Scene: 0 (3)

Scene Safety: 1 (1)

(1: victim fell in an exposure of the fire building and went unnoticed by accountability)

Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus: 0 (9)

 

Death As a Result of EMS Exposure: 0

 

Deaths Which Occurred During Training: 0 (10)

 

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: 8 (38)

1: Victim suffered a heart attack while in firehouse bunk

1: Victim suffered a heart attack at home almost 24 hours after last emergency response

1: Victim suffered a medical emergency after responding to a fire alarm

1: Victim was found unresponsive in firehouse

1: Victim suffered a heart attack after cutting down two trees as part of station duties

1: Victim suffered a heart attack on scene; not part of firefighting operations

1: Victim suffered cardiac arrest at home several hours after an EMS call

1: Victim fell ill on fireground; transported to hospital and died 10 days later.

 

References

1. Kellen Andrew Fleming, Westview-Fairforest Fire Department

2. James Bethea, Baltimore City Fire Department

3. “City Fire Safety Officer Found Deceased in East Baltimore Dwelling”, FOX45

4. David W. Millett, Norway Fire Department. Cardiac arrest at home several hours after structure fire.

5. Douglas James Casson, Vaughn Volunteer Fire Department. Heart attack after training.

6. Christopher Hunter, Cinnaminson Fire Department

7. Richard Weisse, Sr., St. James Fire District

8. “Death of NJ Firefighter Inspires Push for Measure that Would Ensure Health Insurance Coverage for Families of First Responders”  Cleve Bryan, CBS Philly, 6 January 2015

9. “Death of Cinnaminson Firefighter Spurs New Legislation” Kevin McArdle, NewJersey 101.5, 7 January 2015

10. Assembly, No.4062, State of New Jersey, 216th Legislature
Singleton, Wisniewski, Conaway Jr., Caride and Quijano

11. Alejandro Castro, Brownsville Fire Department

12. James S. Foote, Summit Fire Department

13. Arthur “Art” E. Treon, Cape May County Office of Emergency Management

14. “Art Treon, longtime firefighter, dies after responding to fire” Christopher South, Shore News Today, 20 November 2014

15. Samir “Sam” P. Ashmar, Upper Macungie Township Station 56, Inc.

16. Tom T. Rhamey, Western Holmes County Fire and EMS – Lakeville Station

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 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

July 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

August 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

September 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

October 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

 

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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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