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Captain Killed and Six Firefighters Injured at a Propane Explosion in an Office Building–Maine

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

F2019-16 Date Released: January 3, 2022

Executive Summary

. The building maintenance supervisor had called the fire station directly. The fire chief called county dispatch, so the call could be transmitted by radio to the fire and rescue department. County dispatch alerted Car 1, Engine 2, and Tower 3 at 0808 hours. The fire chief (Car 1) arrived on-scene and met with the building maintenance supervisor. The employees had moved to their designated evacuation area, which was the northwest corner of the parking lot. Firefighters from Engine 2 and Tower 3 arrived on-scene. The officer and firefighter from Tower 3 initiated air sampling with a portable multi-gas detector. Tower 3 members conducted air sampling around the propane tank. They found no indication of a propane leak, but the propane tank was empty with frost on the bottom half of the tank and the ground around the tank at approximately 0813 hours. Firefighters were ordered to the basement of the building by the fire chief. The fire chief and a captain who responded on Engine 2 were reportedly on the 1st floor of the building. A firefighter assigned to Tower 3 went to the basement with a portable multi-gas detector. The captain from Tower 3 was already in the basement with the building maintenance supervisor and a firefighter from Engine 2. The firefighter from Tower 3 stated that the multi-gas detector started to read a lower explosive limit (LEL) as he went down the basement stairs. The LEL continued to increase until the multi-gas detector alarmed at 100% at the bottom of the steps. The firefighter from Tower 3 stated he was in the basement less than one minute. At 0817 hours, an explosion occurred that leveled the building. The captain of Engine 2, who was reportedly on the 1st floor, was killed as a result of injuries sustained in the explosion. Two firefighters were standing on Side Bravo in the parking lot when the explosion occurred. The force of the explosion threw them to the dirt road approximately 20 – 30 feet away. Six firefighters, including the fire chief, and the building maintenance supervisor were injured. Initially, all six injured firefighters were transported to a local hospital. One firefighter was treated and released. The other five firefighters were transported by air or ground to various hospitals throughout the state. The captain of Engine 2 was pronounced deceased by EMS personnel at approximately 0840 hours.

Key Recommendations

NIOSH, as a federal agency whose focus is prevention, offers the following recommendations to lower the risk of sudden cardiac events and other incapacitating medical conditions among firefighters at this and other fire departments across the country.

  • Fire departments responding to a hazardous materials incident should ensure that a scene size-up and initial risk assessment are performed. In addition, fire departments should establish isolation zones and ensure a continuous risk assessment is conducted throughout the incident
  • Fire departments should ensure incident commanders initiate a defensive strategy and communicates the incident action plan (tactics) during initial operations of a hazardous materials incident. The strategy and incident action plan are revised based upon the tactical objectives taken to mitigate the hazard
  • Fire departments should ensure firefighters are trained to understand the scrubbing or odorant fade of ethyl mercaptan from propane. This training includes the use of multi-gas detectors to determine if a potentially explosive atmosphere is present.


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