March 2015 On-Duty Deaths

March sees the first fatality during a search for occupants

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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.

 

In March we saw the first multiple fatality incident of the year as well as the first fatality of the year that occurred while searching for occupants. Eight members of the fire service died this month, equal to the number in February. The deaths were evenly split between career and volunteer status. Ther average age of those killed this month was 49; the youngest was 18 and the oldest was 72. The 72-year old victim is the third to date over the age of 65.

Heart attack and stress/overexertion claimed half the victims in this month. An exterior structural collapse claimed one firefighter making the total of those caught in a collapse during a fire, at the end of the month, two. This one victim was also the only one for the month whose activity type is listed as Advancing Hoselines.

Five deaths occurred outside of what we call the “traditional” line of duty definition. Three died at work, home or in the hospital due to medical problems. Of those three, two died days later while in the hospital. The remaining two died in an aircraft crash at a non-emergency event.

The good news for the month is that no firefighter died while training, during response or inside a vacant building, to name a few of the areas of success by month’s end.

Below is a snapshot of each fatality and the data at the end of the month.

 

A 72-year old pilot from California is the first on-duty death of March. The victim was found deceased in his barracks and his nature of death is listed as a heart attack [1]. Our second firefighter fatality of the month was on the other end of the age range when an 18-year old Pennsylvania firefighter was killed in a collapse. The young volunteer firefighter was fighting a residential structure fire when he was caught in a porch collapse [2]. He later succumbed to his injury.

Heart attack claimed a Kentucky fire chief early in the month. On 4 March while driving a department vehicle to a downed power line call, the 54-year old volunteer experienced trouble breathing. A passenger took over driving and rushed the victim to a hospital. He died at another hospital six days later [3].

On 7 March a Mississippi firefighter became ill while at the scene of a residential structure fire. The 38-year old volunteer told other firefighters on the scene an left for home. At home, his wife took him to the local hospital where he was treated for a heart attack. He was later transferred to another hospital where he died eight days later [4].

A Cincinnati firefighter died while searching for occupants during a residential apartment fire. On 26 March the victim mistakenly fell into an elevator shaft while searching the top floor of the five-story building [5]. A department investigation attributed the fatality to poor visibility and hampered communications [6].

Heart attack claimed another firefighter late in the month. On 25 March a 63-year old volunteer firefighter felt ill after responding to a fire alarm. He went home where he suffered a heart attack. He died two days later in the hospital [7].

The month ended with the first multiple fatality incident of the year. On 30 March a helicopter crew were monitoring a controlled burn in Mississippi’s DeSoto National Forest when their aircraft crashed. A 55-year old technician [8] and a 40-year old pilot were killed [9].

 

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 Flashover, Backdraft, Explosive Incident: 0

Deaths Involving Residential Structural Collapse during Fire: 1 (2)

Victim inside Structure: 0 (1)

Floor Collapse: 0 (1)

Victim outside Structure: 1 (1)

Porch Collapse: 1 (1)

Deaths Involving Commercial Structural Collapse during Fire: 0

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

Deaths in Multi-Family Dwellings: 1 (1)

Deaths in Educational, Institutional, Commercial and Industrial Occupancies: 0

Deaths in Vacant/Abandoned Structures: 0

 

Multi-Fatality Incidents: 1 (1)

1: Two killed in helicopter crash during controlled burn in Mississippi

 

Nature of Death

Asphyxiation: 0

Burns: 0 (1)

Cerebrovascular Accident: 0 (1)

Crushed: 1 (2)

Drowning: 0

Electrocution: 0

Exposure: 0

Heart Attack: 4 (9)

Not Stated: 0

Other: 0

Trauma: 3 (5)

Unknown: 0 (5)

 

Cause of Death

Assault: 0

Caught/Trapped: 0

Collapse: 1 (2)

Contact With: 0

Exposure: 0

Fall: 1 (1)

Lost: 0

Other: 0

Stress/Overexertion: 4 (9)

Struck by: 0 (3)

Trauma: 0

Vehicle Collision: 2 (2)

Unknown: 0 (5)

 

Average Age: 49

Youngest: 18

Oldest: 72

Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: 1 (3) (72, 74, 67)

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

 

Volunteer: 4 (13)

Career: 4 (9)

Paid on Call: 0 (1)

 

Rank/Position

County Fire Coordinator: 0

Fire Chief: 1 (2)

Deputy Chief: 0

Assistant Chief: 0 (1)

Battalion Chief: 0 (1)

Major: 0

Captain: 0 (2)

Lieutenant: 0 (1)

(GA, 11 Februrary, USFA has no listing of rank. Department information lists victim as “lieutenant”)

Sergeant: 0 (1)

Safety Officer: 0

Fire Crew Supervisor: 0

Firefighter: 3 (9)

(NY: Victim listed as Firefighter by USFA; Fire-Police by local media)

Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 1 (1)

Pilot: 1 (1)

Recruit/Trainee: 0

Driver/Operator/Engineer: 1 (1)

Fire-Police: 0

Fire Marshal: 0

Department of Defense: 0

Chaplain: 0

Wildland Full-Time: 1 (1)

 

Deaths Involving Lack of Seatbelt Use: 0

Deaths Involving Apparatus Accidents: 2 (3)

 

Fireground Assignment/Activity at Time of Death

Incident Command: 1 (1)
1: Victim killed in helicopter crash while monitoring a controlled burn

Fire Attack: 2 (5)

Advancing Hoseline: 1 (4)
1: Pennsylvania, victim caught in porch collapse during residential structure fire
(1: Georgia, Victim caught in floor collapse during basement fire)
(1: Houston, Victim had walked out of structure before collapsing)
(1: Pennsylvania, Heart attack during grass, garage fire)

Search: 1 (1)
1: Ohio, victim fell into an elevator shaft during residential high-rise fire

Deaths where occupants were known to be out of fire structure: 0 (1)
(1: Macon-Bib County, GA 11 February 2015)

Extrication: 0

Vent (Roof): 0

Pump Operations: 0

Water Supply: 0

Overhaul/Salvage: 0

On Scene: 0

Scene Safety: 0 (2)

Support: 0 (1)

EMS/Patient Care: 0 (1)

Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus: 1 (1)

Death As a Result of EMS Exposure: 0

 

Deaths Which Occurred During Training: 0 (1)
(1: Victim suffered a heart attack during SCBA training)

 

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: 5 (11)
1: Victim found deceased in barracks
1: Victim became ill and left scene of residential structure fire. Died several days later in hospital
1: Victim became ill after fire alarm, suffered heart attack at home; Died two days later in hospital
1: Victim killed in helicopter crash during controlled burn
1: Victim killed in helicopter crash during controlled burn

Previous (Feb.)

1: Victim was struck by a vehicle in front of firehouse while directing traffic as a company left on a transfer

1: Victim suffered a fatal heart attack while bringing a patient into the hospital

1: Victim found on floor of garage after being alerted to EMS call

Previous (Jan.)

1: Victim died several hours after responding to an alarm

1: Victim died in his sleep at home, several hours after responding to an alarm

1: Victim died at home several hours after a commercial structure fire

 

References

1. Jerold “Jerry” Bonner, CAL FIRE

2. Jeffery Scott Buck, Lawrence Township Volunteer Fire Company No.1 – Clearfield County Station No.5

3. Billy R. Jarvis, Allen Fire Department

4. John L. Shoup, Ashland Volunteer Fire Department

5. Daryl Gordon, Cincinnati Fire Department

6. Cincinnati Releases Apartment Fire LODD Report, FirefighterNation.com/FireRescue Magazine 11 Sept. 2015

7. Barry Van Horn, Somerville Fire Department – West End Hose Company No.3

8. Steve Cobb, United States Forest Service – National Forests in Mississippi

9. Brandon Ricks, United States Forest Service – National Forests in Mississippi

 

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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, 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 was been nominated for 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.

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