On March 13, 2004, a 55-year-old male career Battalion Chief (Victim #1) and a 51-year-old male career master fire fighter (Victim #2) were fatally injured during a structural collapse at a church fire.
Victim #1 was acting as the Incident Safety Officer and Victim #2 was performing overhaul, extinguishing remaining hot spots inside the church vestibule when the bell tower collapsed on them and numerous other fire fighters. Twenty-three fire fighters injured during the collapse were transported to area hospitals.
A backdraft occurred earlier in the incident that injured an additional six fire fighters. The collapse victims were extricated from the church vestibule several hours after the collapse. The victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:
- ensure that an assessment of the stability and safety of the structure is conducted before entering fire and water-damaged structures for overhaul operations
- establish and monitor a collapse zone to ensure that no activities take place within this area during overhaul operations
- ensure that the Incident Commander establishes the command post outside of the collapse zone
- train fire fighters to recognize conditions that forewarn of a backdraft
- ensure consistent use of personal alert safety system (PASS) devices during overhaul operations
- ensure that pre-incident planning is performed on structures containing unique features such as bell towers
- ensure that Incident Commanders conduct a risk-versus-gain analysis prior to committing fire fighters to an interior operation, and continue to assess risk-versus-gain throughout the operation including overhaul
- develop standard operating guidelines (SOGs) to assign additional safety officers during complex incidents
- provide interior attack crews with thermal imaging cameras
- municipalities should enforce current building codes to improve the safety of occupants and fire fighters