December 2014 On-Duty Deaths in Detail

 

Accountability is questioned at the end of the year

 

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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.

 

December ended 2014 for us with a total of six on-duty deaths, two of which involved actual firefighting operations. They range from a member passing away in the peacefulness of his own home, to a one being unaccounted for while withdrawing from a residential structure fire.

The average age of this month’s victims was 50; the oldest was 69 and the youngest was 36. The month’s fatalities were split evenly among career and volunteer fire service, but varied in rank. A fire chief and a lieutenant were among those who died this month. A total of 11 fire chiefs and 10 lieutenants died in 2014, the most of all ranks, adding to the whole chief and line officer total of 43 victims (including crew supervisor and safety officer), nine more than the yearly total for firefighters.

On 3 December a South Carolina career line officer [1] was found unresponsive in his bed at the firehouse. The victim had responded to at least one alarm and had participated in firehouse duties prior to his death.

9 December started with the first female on-duty death in the history of the Philadelphia Fire Department [2]. An early morning residential structure fire resulted in the loss of a veteran firefighter as the initial companies were preparing to attack the fire in the basement. As the details of all firefighting on-duty deaths are convoluted, this one has evolved into a matter of disorganization, miscommunication, lack of accountability and more as the news stories following the incident reveal [3]. The USFA narrative has the victim advancing a hoseline when tactics changed and a withdraw was ordered. The victim was unaccounted for and is listed as being “caught/trapped” yet no news reports give any inclination to that, or disorientation either. What we can surmise is that the victim was either separated or left behind and an unfortunate amount of time passed before she was noticed to be missing [4]. Her death is one of three for the year involving 1-and-2 family dwellings and of the eight total residential structure fire fatality incidents (keep in mind that of those eight, two were multiple victim fatalities).

That same day also saw a fatality in Tennessee. A 69-year old volunteer firefighter was driving a tanker to a structure fire when he collided head-on with a logging truck [5]. Both drivers were killed. The USFA narrative has the incident still under investigation. A local news report states that according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the tanker had crossed the center line prior to the collision [6].

Another fire chief died in December. In North Carolina a 61-year old volunteer chief was found deceased in his home during the evening [7]. Earlier in the day he had responded to an EMS call and a fire call.

19 December saw the final firefighting fatality of the year. On that morning a New York volunteer firefighter had become separated from other firefighters after reportedly falling through the first floor and into the basement [8]. Just as troubling as the Philadelphia incident, this victim also went unaccounted for for some time before being noticed by other firefighters [9]. The 43-year old victim succumbed to his wounds four days later. His death is one of two for the year involving a collapse and one of four where Burns was the nature of death.

The final on-duty death of 2014 occurred on 25 December. A 44-year old career New Jersey firefighter passed away within 24 hours of responding to an alarm [10].

 

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: 1 (2) (Indiana: 1; New York 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: 2 (3)

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 (2)

Burns: 1 (4)

Cerebrovascular Accident: 2 (2)

Crushed: 0 (1)

Drowning: 0

Electrocution: 0 (1)

Exposure: 0

Heart Attack: 2 (40)

Not Stated: 0 (1)

Other: 0 (3)

Trauma: 1 (14)

Unknown: 0 (14)

 

Cause of Death

Assault: 0 (1)

Caught/Trapped: 2 (6)

Collapse: 1 (2)

Contact With: 0 (1)

Exposure: 0

Fall: 0 (4)

Lost: 0

Other: 0 (1)

Stress/Overexertion: 3 (45)

Struck by: 0 (1)

Trauma: 0

Vehicle Collision: 1 (11)

Unknown: 0 (11)

 

Average Age: 50

Youngest: 36

Oldest: 69

Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: 1 (8)

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

 

Volunteer: 3 (47)

Career: 3 (39)

(1 victim listed as Wildland Full-Time)

(1 victim listed as Wildland Contract)

 

Rank/Position

County Fire Coordinator: 0 (1)

Fire Chief: 1 (11)

Deputy Chief: 0 (1)

Assistant Chief: 0 (7)

Battalion Chief: 0 (1)

Major: 0 (1)

Captain: 0 (9)

Lieutenant: 1 (10)

Safety Officer: 0 (1)

Fire Crew Supervisor: 0 (1)

Firefighter: 4 (34)

1: Wildland Full-Time

Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 0

Pilot: 0 (2)

Recruit/Trainee: 0

Driver/Operator/Engineer: 0 (3)

Fire-Police: 0

Fire Marshal: 0 (1)

Department of Defense: 0

Chaplain: 0 (1)

 

Deaths Involving Lack of Seatbelt Use: 0 (3)

Deaths Involving Apparatus Accidents: 1 (7)

 

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: 1 (8)

Search: 1 (5)

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 (3)

Water Supply: 0 (1)

Overhaul/Salvage:

On Scene: 0 (3)

Scene Safety: 0 (1)

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

Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus: 1 (10)

 

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: 3 (41)

1: Victim was found unresponsive in firehouse bunk in the early morning.

1: Victim was found in the evening deceased at home after responding to alarms earlier in the day.

1: Victim passed away of cause and nature to be determined within 24 hours of an alarm.

 

References

1. John M. Burns, Myrtle Beach Fire Department

2. Joyce M. Craig-Lewis, Philadelphia Fire Department

3. “Tactical, Communication Errors Contributed to Philadelphia LODD” FirefighterNation.com/FireRescue Magazine, March 2015

4. “Philadelphia Commissioner Pledges Changes; Family Seeks Criminal Charges” FirefighterNation.com/FireRescue Magazine, March 2015

5. Gus Losleben, Hardin County Fire Department

6. “Firefighter, truck driver identified in Hardin Co. crash” Kurt Mullen, WBBJ 9 December 2014

7. Ricky Wooten Doub, Forbush Volunteer Fire Department

8. Joseph “Junior” Sanford Jr. Inwood Fire Department

9. “New York Firefighter Succumbs to Injuries” FirefighterNation.com/FireRescue Magazine, December 2014

10. James J. Woods, Jersey City Fire Department

 

Photo courtesy of Associate Press

 

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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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