Safety & Health

NIOSH LODD Report: Collapse at 140-Year Old Mill Kills Pennsylvania Firefighters

On March 22, 2018, two male career fire fighters, ages 50 and 29, died following a structure collapse while working to extinguish hot spots following a structure fire in a 140-year old mill building. The previous day, March 21, 2018, the local career fire department was dispatched at 1616 hours, for a report of a structure fire with possible entrapment. 

Read the Report:
Structure Collapse at 140-Year Old Mill Building Kills 2 Career Fire Fighters and Injures 2 Others

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The deputy chief arrived on scene and observed heavy smoke at the site of a large Type IV (heavy timber) construction mill building under renovation to create an apartment complex. He radioed dispatch and upgraded the incident to a working fire assignment and assumed incident command. 

Arriving crews were assigned to an offensive interior attack with 1 ¾-inch hand lines deployed through a door at Side Alpha. A fire fighter from Engine 99-5 was injured when he fell during interior search operations for a reported missing fire fighter. The Incident Commander ordered an evacuation of the structure and requested a personal accountability report after the fire rapidly spread throughout the 53,000-square foot structure. The reported missing fire fighter was accounted for and defensive operations were initiated with elevated master streams and ground monitors on all four sides of the structure. 

Approximately two hours into the incident, cracks began to form in the Side Bravo exterior wall and a large portion of the structure collapsed (Sides Bravo, Charlie and Delta) just minutes after Truck 89-1 was repositioned out of the collapse zone. Fire fighters from five fire departments worked overnight to extinguish the fire. 

The next morning, on March 22, 2018, Fire Department officials discussed the situation with the building owner and an engineer contracted by the building owner. The Incident Commander, the city building official, the owner, and the engineer entered the structure from Side Alpha to visually inspect floors one and two. Then they used an elevated aerial platform to visually inspect the roof and top two floors for structural stability. 

Following the inspection, fire department officials made the decision to use the elevated aerial platform for access to send a hose line crew onto the third and fourth floors to extinguish the remaining hot spots. Truck 99-1 was repositioned at the Side Alpha / Delta corner so that fire fighters, supervised by the Incident Commander (located in the elevated platform), could access the fourth floor. 

At approximately 1515 hours, a collapse occurred that dropped three fire fighters and the shift commander (assistant chief) to the ground. The Incident Commander, located in the bucket of Truck 99-1 immediately radioed a Mayday and requested additional resources. Fire fighters worked for 29 minutes to free the four fire fighters trapped under the debris. Two fire fighters received fatal injuries in the collapse while the assistant chief and the fourth fire fighter were seriously injured.

Contributing Factors:

  • Building under renovation with inactive sprinkler system
  • Long-burning deep-seated fire could not be reached by exterior master streams
  • Previous partial structure collapse
  • Fire fighters entered collapse zone following defensive operations
  • Inadequate risk versus gain analysis.

Key Recommendations:

  • Fire departments should ensure that all fire fighters are trained to understand the collapse hazards of various building construction types including mill construction.
  • Fire departments should train all fire fighters on the hazards of working within a collapse zone.
  • Fire departments should ensure that an initial risk assessment is performed and continuous risk assessment is accomplished throughout the incident and the strategy and tactics match the conditions encountered as part of the continuous size-up.

Additionally, state, local, and municipal governments, building owners and authorities having jurisdiction should:

  • Consider requiring the use of sprinkler systems in commercial structures and residential apartment complexes including during renovation work.