April 2015 On-Duty Deaths

It was a bad month for the elderly and Fire-Police

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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.

 

Seven firefighters died in the month of April, the second lowest month of the year, so far.  It was not a good month for firefighters over the age of 65. Three elderly firefighters passed away in this month, aged 95, 71 and 68. The two oldest were serving as fire-police in their departments, an area of the volunteer fire service that in some ways placates the need for continual operational service of the most senior of its members. The average age of this month’s victims was 56. The youngest fatality was 37 years old. By the end of the month a total of six firefighters over the age of 65 were among the on-duty deaths of 2015.

Unknown, stress/overexertion and heart attack were the leading nature and cause of deaths for the month.  None of the victims were killed in vehicle crashes. One was killed while inside a burning building, unaccounted for after firefighters were pulled out of a residential structure fire and found some time later inside the structure, having fallen through a floor or involved in a floor collapse.

One firefighter died during a training event in April. An inmate, part-time wildland firefighter suffered a heart attack during a training exercise. His death is one of two for the year, at this period.

 

The first firefighter fatality for April actually occurred on 25 February in Pennsylvania and drew attention to the issue of the elderly participating in the fire service. While on the scene of a two-alarm warehouse fire, a 95-year old fire police captain complained of not feeling well while spending much of the evening in the cold directing traffic [1].  His condition worsened while at home and he was taken to a hospital and died on 2 April.

At 95, this victim is perhaps the oldest USFA on-duty death since data has been collected.  The 61 and older age group has been somewhat low in their number of percentages of deaths in past years.  In 2010 they were the leading age group of on-duty deaths containing 30 percent of the fatalities that year. In 2014 they were the second largest fatality age group at 28 percent (26 fatalities).  2015 will see another low for this grouping.   Age has usually been a concern in firefighter fatalities but usually it is on the other end of the range, the young firefighter, 18 years old and younger.  While reductions in fatalities in the fire service’s youth are notable, the service seems to struggle with what value in our prevention education the deaths of our geriatric members pose.  Often the usual cultural acceptance is that their numbers count largely due to their service to the department, a trait greatly embraced by the volunteer fire service more than the career fire service.  While the investigation of some of these fatalities could provide beneficial health and wellness information for us, the more important question that the volunteer fire service needs to address is what contributions can our elderly members safely make, operationally, if needed?  Department leaders who employ the elderly must be able to appropriately provide for and ensure their care during operations and follow-up on their well-being afterwards. If we would demand oversight of 16-, 17- and 18-year old volunteer firefighters driving POV to the firehouse or scene, then why would we not expect the same attention to care of those on the other end of the age range?

The second fatality occurred on 12 April in South Dakota. A 38-year old volunteer firefighter was found in the basement of a residential structure fire after firefighters were ordered out [2].  Firefighters were withdrawn from the structure at 2241 hours.  At 2301 hours the victim was reported missing and later found at 0130 hours [3]. The victim reportedly went missing some point after an occupant was removed from the structure. Deteriorating conditions are what caused the incident commander to pull the firefighters out. [4].

Two months later news of the death of the South Dakota firefighter would take a troubling turn.  Authorities reported that the victim had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit [5].  The local police chief stated that the victim’s judgment was arguably flawed but credits him with alerting other firefighters to the need to evacuate from the structure.  While the USFA currently lists his cause and nature of death as unknown, it is believed according to news reports that the victim either fell through the first floor or was caught in a collapse of the first floor, leading to his body being found in the basement.  Witnesses on the scene reportedly saw no signs of impairment in the victim.

The fire service currently awaits word on subsequent investigations by the state fire marshal’s office and the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation. An offer from a federal organization to investigate the firefighter fatality was not accepted. The victim’s activity type is listed as Advancing Hoselines. His is the fourth of that type in the first fourth months of 2015 to be directly related to being inside a burning structure.

A heart attack was the nature of death for the third firefighter fatality of the month.  On April 13 an inmate firefighter suffered a heart attack during a training exercise on an Indian reservation in California [6]. The 37-year old victim died after being flown to a basecamp to be treated by paramedics.

On 16 April a Nebraska volunteer fire department captain was stricken while leaving the scene of a vehicle fire [7].  The 42-year old victim collapsed and was unable to be revived by his colleagues. His cause and nature of death are currently listed as unknown.

“Unknown” claimed another firefighter in April and another elderly firefighter as well.  On 19 April a 71-year old fire police lieutenant was directing traffic at a homicide scene in Pennsylvania [8]. The victim complained of not feeling well when he returned to the firehouse. He collapsed and was immediately treated by other firefighters and transported to a hospital where he later passed away.

Another elderly firefighter passed away in April, this time a 68-year old training officer/firefighter from Kansas.  On 27 April the victim was donning gear while preparing to respond to an emergency call when he collapsed [9]. The cause and nature of his death is currently listed as unknown.

A heart attack several hours after an EMS call is what claimed the final victim in the month of April.  On 30 April a Pennsylvania volunteer firefighter was stricken at his home four hours after having responded to a medical assistance call [10]. The 46-year old victim succumbed to his injury at the local hospital.

 

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 (3)

Victim inside Structure: 1 (2)
Floor Collapse: 1 (2)
Victim outside Structure: 0 (1)
Porch Collapse: 0 (1)

Deaths Involving Commercial Structural Collapse during Fire: 0

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

Deaths in Multi-Family Dwellings: 0 (1)

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

Deaths in Vacant/Abandoned Structures: 0

 

Multi-Fatality Incidents: 0 (1)

 

Nature of Death

Asphyxiation: 0

Burns: 0 (1)

Cerebrovascular Accident: 0 (1)

Crushed: 0 (2)

Drowning: 0

Electrocution: 0

Exposure: 0

Heart Attack: 2 (11)

Not Stated: 0

Other: 1 (1)

Trauma: 0 (5)

Unknown: 4 (9)

 

Cause of Death

Assault: 0

Caught/Trapped: 0

Collapse: 0 (2)

Contact With: 0

Exposure: 0

Fall: 0 (1)

Lost: 0

Other: 0

Stress/Overexertion: 3 (12)

Struck by: 0 (3)

Trauma: 0

Vehicle Collision: 0 (2)

Unknown: 4 (9)

 

Average Age: 56

Youngest: 37

Oldest: 95

Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: 3  (6) (72, 74, 67, 95, 71, 68)

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

 

Volunteer: 6 (19)

Career: 1 (10)

Paid on Call: 0 (1)

 

Rank/Position

County Fire Coordinator: 0

Fire Chief: 0 (2)

Deputy Chief: 0

Assistant Chief: 0 (1)

Battalion Chief: 0 (1)

Major: 0

Captain: 1 (3)

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: 10 (12)

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

Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 0 (1)

Pilot: 0 (1)

Recruit/Trainee: 0

Driver/Operator/Engineer: 0 (1)

Fire-Police: 2 (2)

Fire Marshal: 0

Department of Defense: 0

Chaplain: 0

Wildland Full-Time: 0 (1)

Wildland Part-Time: 1 (1)

 

Deaths Involving Lack of Seatbelt Use: 0

Deaths Involving Apparatus Accidents: 0 (3)

 

Fireground Assignment/Activity at Time of Death

Incident Command: 0 (1)
(1: Victim killed in helicopter crash while monitoring a controlled burn)

Fire Attack: 1 (6)

Advancing Hoseline: 1 (5)
1: South Dakota, victim unaccounted for after withdraw; found in basement of residential structure fire

(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: 0 (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)

(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: 1 (3)

Support: 0 (1)

EMS/Patient Care: 0 (1)

 

Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus: 0 (1)

Death As a Result of EMS Exposure: 0

 

Deaths Which Occurred During Training: 1 (2)
1: Victim suffered a heart attack during a wildland training exercise

(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: 3 (14)
1: Victim suffered a heart attack at home several hours after emergency call
1: Victim became ill at firehouse after traffic control
1: 95-year old victim fell ill while directing traffic in cold weather; died in hospital approximately two months later

Previous (March)
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 (February)
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 (January)
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. John J. Doster, Edgely Fire Company No.1, Inc.
2. Steven Ackerman, Valley Springs Fire & Rescue
3. “Homeowner, Firefighter Dead After Overnight House Fire” Brandon Van Westen, Keloland.com 13 April 2015
4. “As it happened: Firefighter, homeowner killed in Brandon fire” Randle,Meier and Walker, Argus Leader 15 April 2015
5. “Firefighter’s blood-alcohol content leads to questions” Mike Walker, Argus Leader 5 June 2015
6. Raymond Araujo, CAL Fire
7. Andrew “Andy” Zalme, Dakota City Fire Department
8. Curtis E. Nordsick, Wrightsville Steam Engine & Hose Company No.1
9. Mike Corn, Conway Springs Fire Department
10. Timothy T. Peters, Pine Grove Hose, Hook and Ladder Fire Co. No.1

 

Photo courtesy of Keloland.com

 

 

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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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