On December 20, 2004, a 24-year-old male career probationary firefighter (the victim) died after he became separated from a fire-attack team at a two-alarm, single-story, residential structure fire. The fire-attack team and a search and rescue team entered the structure through the front entrance.
After approximately four minutes, the crews the victim was operating with had to perform an emergency evacuation from the structure due to intensifying, uncontrollable fire conditions. Immediately after the evacuation, a personnel accountability report (PAR) was called, and soon after, the crews realized that the victim was missing. The rapid intervention team (RIT) team attempted to search for the victim, but was unable to make entry due to the fire conditions.
The victim was found approximately 15 minutes after the PAR, about 15 feet from the point of entry (Diagram 1). The victim was pronounced dead on-scene by the county medical examiner.
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:
- ensure that a complete size-up is conducted prior to making an offensive attack.
- ensure that risk vs. gain is evaluated prior to making entry in fire-involved structures.
- develop standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for advancing a hose line in high-wind conditions.
- ensure that team continuity is maintained.
- ensure that a backup hose line is pulled and in place prior to entry into fire-involved structures.
- consider using a backup manual personal accountability safety system (PASS) device in combination with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) equipped with integrated PASS devices.
- provide SCBA face pieces that are equipped with voice amplifiers for improved interior communications.
- ensure that hose lines are not pulled from the burning structure when it is possible that a missing firefighter is in the structure.
- train firefighters on initiating emergency traffic (Mayday-Mayday) and manually activating their PASS alarm when they become lost, disoriented, or trapped.
- instruct firefighters to not overcrowd the area of the interior attack team.