The One POV Death of 2015


Read the details before accepting a number




While writing an article for work to summarize the on-duty firefighter fatalities for 2015 I was verifying and re-verifying that data I had recorded when I noticed one fatality that briefly surprised me.  Breaking the details down into various sub-categories over the year I knew that 2015 showed great improvement in reducing fatalities in the area of personally-owned vehicles, or POVs.

However when checking the numbers regarding response, driving, vehicle operations and riding, one fatality in 2015 showed up as having occurred under Driving/Riding Personal Vehicle.

Engineer John Whelan, Denver Fire Department, Truck Company 8


It’s odd that a rear-mount ladder truck would be considered as a personal vehicle and odd that the activity type is considered as driving when compared to a similar on-duty death.

In looking over the past 10 years of POV on-duty death listings, two of the 75 firefighter fatalities in that time period are also listed in a skewed manner.

Assistant Chief Harold Bernard Hollingsworth on 7 April 2013, lost control of the department command vehicle he was driving while en route to a structure fire.

Firefighter Dale Wayne Grider on 29 September 2008, died on an apparent heart attack while riding to training in a department vehicle.

The other 73 firefighters died in clearly stated personally owned vehicles, be it a car, truck, motorcycle or ATV.

For complete discussion, here is the breakdown of POV-related (or listed) firefighter fatalities from the previous years:

13 August 2014
Darrell D. Parker, 56, Nebraska
Crash during response to a fire, related to a heart attack (Volunteer)

14 December 2013
Joshua Travis Smith, 25, Virginia
Crash during response to a MVA, not wearing a seatbelt (Volunteer)

22 July 2013
Bruce Lamar Sensenig, 20, Pennsylvania
Crash during response to a MVA, not wearing a seatbelt (Volunteer)

18 June 2013
Thomas J. Burley, 20, New York
Crash after department-mandated training, unsafe land change (Volunteer)

13 April 2013
Lawrence A. Stone, 37, Illinois
Crash during response to a fire, ejected (Volunteer)

7 April 2013
Harold Bernard Hollingsworth, 47, Missouri
Crash during response to fire (Career)

10 March 2013
Michael Louis Broz, 58, South Carolina
Crash during response to a fire, related to a heart attack (Volunteer)

30 November 2012
Jalen S.D. Smith, 20, Texas
Crash during response to MVA, possibly ejected (Volunteer)

27 September 2012
Justin E. Townsend, 17, Delaware
Crash during response to a fire (Volunteer)

12 April 2012
John Charles Winkelman, 54, Illinois
Crash after leaving committee meeting (Career)

2 February 2012
David Michael William Flint, 49, Pennsylvania
Crash during response to firehouse (Volunteer)

18 January 2012
Brandon Lee Little, 19, Pennsylvania
Crash during response to firehouse, not wearing a seatbelt, eject (Volunteer)

8 January 2012
Samuel Butler, 52, North Carolina
Crash while trying to access MVA scene, not wearing a seatbelt (Volunteer)

As we can see in this brief listing of three years, the details vary. While they all may be currently listed as having died while driving, the exact specifics tell a different story. Some suffered a heart attack while behind the wheel; others lost control of their vehicle. Some were responding to an emergency call; others from a training or meeting.

This is important to know especially as the first months of the New Year bring articles about the total of firefighter deaths from last year and the numbers in the various categories. By moving past the face value we can learn the exact details of each fatality, what areas we have experienced progress in and what areas we need to concentrate a greater effort towards.  Each of these requires the fire service to have a greater investment and change in attitude in the discussion about our fatalities especially as the collective body work to reduce fatalities every year.



“Denver Firefighter Succumbs to Injuries” FireRescue Magazine/ 16 July 2015

“Reducing Injury and Death in POV Response” NVFC, IAFC 9 September 2015 (download)


Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing


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BillCareyBioPicBill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Public Safety, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/,, and 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, Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine,, the Jones and Bartlett 2010 edition of “Fire Officer: Principles and Practice”, The Secret List and His recent writing on firefighter behavioral health was nominated for a 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.

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  • Jeff billingsley says:

    Bill, why would you include John Whelans death in your article? Maybe as someone who writes for a living you should get your facts straight before sharing your “pearls of wisdom”.

    • Bill Carey says:

      Facts are actually what is written, as you should be able to see and understand, and plainly presented as USFA information. I don’t believe there is anything more to get straight, other than a correction of the activity type, than to state the obvious, that John Whelan did not die while driving a personal vehicle to a fire but that he fell through a skylight while checking for extension during a dumpster fire.


  • Jason says:

    Your response should not be that a ladder truck is not a POV when looking for misinformed LODD. Or with extenuating circumstances contributing to the POV accident. John fell through a skylight. Had nothing to do with driving. The activity miss, That should be your point.

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