On Aug. 13, 2006, a 55-year-old male career engineer died and another firefighter was injured after falling through the floor at a residential structure fire.
The victim and firefighter had arrived in their ambulance and assisted the first-due engine in attaching a 5″ supply line at approximately 1227 hrs. The engine company was conducting a fast attack on a suspected basement fire, while a ladder company conducted horizontal ventilation. The ambulance crew had advanced to the front of the structure when the incident commander requested they conduct a primary search.
The victim and firefighter proceeded to conduct a left-hand search at approximately 1234 hrs. They took a couple of steps to the left just inside the front door to conduct a quick sweep. Visibility was near zero with minimal heat conditions. Because of the smoke conditions, they kneeled, sounded the ceramic tile floor and took one crawling step on their knees.
They heard a large crack just before the floor gave way, sending them into the basement. The basement area exploded into a fireball when the floor collapsed. The victim fell into the room of origin, while the injured firefighter fell on the other side of a basement door into a hallway.
The injured firefighter was able to eventually crawl out of a basement window. The victim was recovered the next day.
CAUSE OF DEATH
The medical examiner listed the cause of death as smoke inhalation and thermal burns. The injured firefighter suffered first-degree burns to approximately 15 percent of her back and upper arms, and she also suffered a fractured hip and ribs.
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:
- Conduct pre-incident planning and inspections of buildings within their jurisdictions to facilitate development of safe fireground strategies and tactics;
- Use a thermal imaging camera during the initial size-up and search phases of a fire; and
- Ensure firefighters are trained to recognize the danger of operating above a fire and to identify buildings constructed with trusses.
Additionally, building code officials and local authorities having jurisdiction should consider modifying the current building codes to require that lightweight trusses be protected with a fire barrier on both the top and bottom.