Career Lieutenant Killed in Building Collapse While Fighting Row House Fire—Pennsylvania
Death in the Line of Duty…A summary of a NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation
F2018-03 Date Released: July 30, 2020
On January 6, 2018, a 42-year-old career Lieutenant (Engine-45 officer) was killed in a structural collapse while fighting a fire in an 1800’s era row house. Firefighters arrived to find a two-story row house heavily involved in fire. Fire crews faced limited street access to the fire dwelling (snow covered narrow road and civilian parking), excessive clutter in the building, extreme cold, multiple inoperable fire hydrants and a frozen handline (nozzle). The first arriving crews operating only off tank water were able to locate and remove a civilian victim from the first floor and initially knock down the fire on the first floor. Interruptions in water supply hampered fire-fighting efforts and forced a change in strategy until a reliable supply was established.
Once the water supply was re-established, crews re-entered the structure to continue to extinguish the fire. Fire crews reported excessive debris scattered throughout the interior. Engine-45’s officer and his tip man re-entered the structure after changing out their SCBA cylinders and joined several other members on the first floor including, Rescue-1’s Search Firefighter, Squad-72’s officer and Engine-50’s Pak. There was a total of 5 firefighters on the first floor with 2 additional firefighters (Squad-72 Tip and Squad-72 Pak) in the vestibule area at the front door. Another crew of 3 firefighters from different companies stretched a line in and up the interior stairs on the Bravo wall to the second floor. One firefighter from this crew advanced onto the second floor, while the two other members remained on the stairs to advance hoseline. The firefighter on the second floor experienced a shift in the floor and without time to react, the second floor collapsed into the first floor. Squad-72’s officer reported hearing a loud crack and went to the front door (side Alpha) and told Command to get everyone out.
Some members operating on the first floor were pushed forward (towards side Alpha interior) during the collapse except for the Engine-45 officer. Members of the crew on the second floor either rode the floor down and escaped out of side Charlie or escaped out of the side Alpha entry door. The victim was pinned down by the second-floor joists and was unable to escape. Rescue crews worked continuously for approximately 60 minutes in extremely dangerous conditions to extricate the lieutenant. He died of positional asphyxia with superheated gas and smoke inhalation.
- Extreme cold weather, water supply (6 inoperable hydrants).
- Inherent building characteristics and unique row house variation.
- Structural overloading, excessive clutter and deteriorated building conditions.
- Risk assessment that included a structural condition evaluation after strategy change (fire severity on primary building materials and extension within ceiling spaces).
- Fire Departments should consider increasing response capabilities during extreme weather.
- Fire Departments should consider defensive operations when a dependable, continuous water supply is lost or not available and the building’s primary building materials may have been subject to severe fire conditions.
- Fire Departments should ensure that firefighters are trained to understand the influence of building age, use, design, modifications and construction on structural collapse, and consider defensive operations when hoarding/dilapidated conditions are evident or encountered.
- Fire Departments should perform a thorough risk assessment, including an evaluation of structural conditions, when switching from a defensive strategy back to an offensive strategy.
Additionally, governing municipalities (federal, state, regional, and local) should:
- Consider upgrading access to narrow roadways in 19th century neighborhoods or restrict parking so access is maintained for modern fire apparatus.