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Career Fire Fighter Killed by Structure Collapse While Conducting Interior Search for Occupants Following 4th Alarm – Texas

FF ShieldDeath in the Line of Duty...A summary of a NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation

F2013-17 Date Released: November 25, 2014

Executive Summary

On May 20, 2013 a 51-year-old male career fire fighter (the victim) was conducting a primary search for occupants after the fourth alarm at a fire in an apartment complex and was killed inside the building when it collapsed. The victim and his partner were in the first floor hallway knocking on doors to the apartments, which were inset from the hallway by small vestibules. The victim’s partner was in the vestibule knocking on the third door to the left and the victim was in the hallway going to knock on the third door on the right. In an instant the second floor walkway and possibly the third floor walkway collapsed into the first floor hallway killing the victim. The victim’s partner was trapped in the inset of the doorway.

Contributing Factors

  • Inadequate building construction
  • Sprinkler system not working near origin of fire
  • Incident command
  • Communications
  • Inadequate Size-up
  • Tactics.

Key Recommendations

  • Fire departments should ensure that the Incident Commander establishes a stationary command post, maintains the role of director of fireground operations, and does not become involved in fire-fighting efforts
  • Fire departments should ensure that the Incident Commander conducts an initial size-up and risk assessment of the incident scene before interior fire fighting operations begin
  • Fire departments should ensure critical benchmarks are communicated to the Incident Commander
  • Fire departments should develop, implement and enforce clear procedures for operational modes. Changes in modes must be coordinated between the Incident Command, the command staff and fire fighters
  • Fire departments should ensure the pre-designated Incident Safety Officer assumes that role upon arrival on the fireground
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters are trained in situational awareness, personal safety, and accountability
  • Fire departments should train on and understand the use and operation of elevated master streams and its effects on structural degradation
  • Fire departments should ensure that pre-determined assignments are assumed and staffed
  • Fire departments should train all fire fighting personnel in the risks and hazards related to structural collapse
  • Municipalities, Building Owners, and authorities having jurisdiction should ensure that sprinkler systems are installed in multi-family housing units. Municipalities and authorities having jurisdiction should consider requiring building owners to regularly inspect sprinkler systems to ensure they are functioning properly.

Read the full report

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. In 1998, Congress appropriated funds to NIOSH to conduct a fire fighter initiative that resulted in the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program which examines line-of-duty-deaths or on duty deaths of fire fighters to assist fire departments, fire fighters, the fire service and others to prevent similar fire fighter deaths in the future. The agency does not enforce compliance with State or Federal occupational safety and health standards and does not determine fault or assign blame. Participation of fire departments and individuals in NIOSH investigations is voluntary. Under its program, NIOSH investigators interview persons with knowledge of the incident who agree to be interviewed and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the death(s). Interviewees are not asked to sign sworn statements and interviews are not recorded. The agency's reports do not name the victim, the fire department or those interviewed. The NIOSH report's summary of the conditions and circumstances surrounding the fatality is intended to provide context to the agency's recommendations and is not intended to be definitive for purposes of determining any claim or benefit.

For further information, visit the program Web site at or call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).