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Volunteer Assistant Chief Killed and One Fire Fighter Injured by Roof Collapse in a Commercial Storage Building—Indiana

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

F2014-18 Date Released:  July 18, 2018

Executive Summary

On August 5, 2014, a 40-year-old male volunteer assistant fire chief died after being trapped under a roof collapse while fighting a fire in a commercial storage building. The county dispatch center transmitted Box 9101 for county Fire Station 91 at 2059 hours to a septic tank cleaning business for a confirmed commercial structure fire. The fire chief of Fire Station 91 (Chief 9101) communicated to the county dispatch center that the response was incorrect. A fire station from another county was first-due at this address. Note: The boundary for both fire stations runs through the center of this property. Chief 9101 also relayed to the county dispatch center that Fire Station 91 would continue their response. Chief 9101 was the first unit on the scene at 2105 hours in a vehicle designated as Battalion 9 and assumed command. The fire was in a pole barn-style building with metal siding and a roof with wood-truss supports and a pan ceiling (a metal ceiling that blocks the truss, creating a cockloft). Heavy fire was showing through the roof on Side Bravo and Side Charlie of the structure when the first-due company arrived. After a brief conversation with the assistant fire chief (victim), the incident commander decided to open the doors on the north end (Side A) of the building to set an unmanned ground monitor to keep the contents of the building cool. Access was made through both a doorway and overhead door on the north side. Smoke conditions were light with good visibility. The assistant fire chief was assigned to the north side of the building.

A defensive fire attack was initiated. The assistant fire chief was one of three fire fighters who had entered Side A of the structure to stretch a 2½-inch hoseline to protect equipment and acetylene cylinders. The crew was operating approximately 50 feet inside the structure and then decided to change the 2½-inch nozzle to a portable ground monitor (deck gun). During the changeover, one fire fighter left the interior to go outside and charge the hoseline. The fire was already in the overhead truss system above the assistant fire chief and the fire fighter, and the fire was likely concealed by the ceiling. As the third fire fighter got to the overhead door, a loud crash occurred. The truss system failed and the ceiling and roof assembly collapsed on the assistant fire chief and fire fighter. The assistant fire chief was killed by the collapsing truss system. The fire fighter, who suffered a broken leg, was able to crawl under some equipment before being rescued by a rapid intervention crew from Squad 18.

Contributing Factors

  • Incident management
  • Incident action plan and risk assessment
  • Offensive action in a defensive fire (hidden fire above pan ceiling)
  • Communications/Mutual aid
  • Collapse/exclusion zones and situational awareness
  • Lack of a safety officer

Key Recommendations

  • Fire departments should ensure that a single, effective incident management system is established with a single, designated incident commander, especially when multiple fire departments respond together.
  • Fire departments should ensure that an incident action plan is developed and a risk assessment is performed throughout the incident and the tactics match the conditions encountered.
  • Fire departments should ensure offensive actions are not performed in a defensive strategy and enforce clear procedures for strategic mode changes.
  • Fire departments should work together to develop mutual aid SOPs for fireground operations that include incident management, communications, and operations and train on those procedures.
  • Incident commanders should ensure that collapse zones and exclusion zones are established, marked, and enforced on defensive fires and incidents where dangerous or hazardous conditions exist and that a RIC is assigned even on defensive fires.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a safety officer is appointed at working structural fires.

 

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