NIOSH logo and tagline

Firefighter-EMT Dies After Falling from the Roof of a Five-Story Commercial and Residential Condominium Complex – Colorado

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

F2020-01 Date Released: April 2024

Executive Summary

On December 7, 2019, at about 0214 hours, a 46-year-old firefighter-emergency medical technician (FF-EMT) slipped and fell off the roof of a five-story commercial and residential condominium complex. The FF-EMT was assigned to Truck 1 (T1) which was dispatched to a structure fire. T1 was the first fire department apparatus to arrive on-scene at 0156 hours and positioned on Side Alpha with the rest of the 1st alarm response enroute. The building’s fire alarm had been activated and most residents/guests were in the process of evacuating the building. T1’s officer, an acting lieutenant, established Command and conducted a scene-size up. He confirmed to dispatch that a small fire was coming from the chimney on the south (Side Charlie) side of the building. The building was a large five-story commercial (first-story) and residential (stories two through five) 32-unit condominium complex at a mountain resort. The building’s apex was 68-feet 4-inches with a 4:12 roof pitch. T1 was unable to access Side Charlie due to the narrow openings on Sides Bravo and Delta. Although T1 had a 75-foot aerial ladder, this ladder could not extend over the roof’s apex from its position on Side Alpha.

The T1 attack crew (Command, FF-EMT, and a probationary FF-EMT) grabbed their tools and high-rise packs and met the building manager and resort security with access keys to the roof at the bottom of the eastern stairwell. They climbed the stairs to the top (fifth-story, fourth-floor) of the building to investigate ways to access the chimney fire. As the attack crew climbed the stairs, no smoke was observed in the stairwell or hallways inside the building. The building manager unlocked the fourth-floor ceiling scuttle-hole and the attic hatch providing access to the north-facing roof. Command instructed the two members of T1’s attack team to investigate whether they could access the fire from the roof. Command then headed down the fourth-floor hallway with the property manager to investigate if any of the residential units would provide better access to the fire. Command was joined by two firefighters from Engine 2 (E2).

The FF-EMT squeezed through the scuttle-hole. The probationary FF-EMT retrieved a dry chemical fire extinguisher from the fourth-floor stairwell’s hose cabinet and hoisted this to the FF-EMT. The probationary FF-EMT then made several attempts to squeeze through the scuttle-hole (2 feet by 17 inches) but was unsuccessful. The FF-EMT then proceeded to climb through the attic hatch (approximately 3 feet by 3 feet) which opened onto the north-facing roof which was covered in snow and possibly ice from a previous winter storm. The FF-EMT reported to Command that the fire involved a chimney chase, and they would need a hose lay on the roof. Medic 2 (M2) staff, part of the 1st alarm response staging on Side Alpha, were surprised to see the FF-EMT on the north-facing roof considering the hazardous conditions (remaining snow and possible ice) on a 4:12 pitched roof.

Battalion 8 (B8) had arrived on-scene at 0207 hours but did not assume Command. After receiving a report from the resort security and from a county Sheriff, B8 walked around to Side Charlie where he saw the chimney chase fire. Command and E2 had entered unit 406 and were using a flashlight to look around. B8 saw these flashlights just below the chimney chase fire. B8 advised Command to access the fire through the unit’s skylight. Command radioed B8 that one of T1’s firefighters was on the roof with access to the fire. B8 responded that the best access would be the skylight. Command responded that he would try to access unit 406’s skylight.

Command returned to the east end of the fourth-floor hallway and tasked the probationary FF-EMT to couple and stretch the hoses from the east stairwell to unit 406. There was conflicting information as to whether the FF-EMT was in the attic at this time or whether he was already on the roof. Establishing unit 406 as the base of fire suppression efforts was not radioed to dispatch or to on-scene firefighters.

At approximately 0214 hours, several witnesses observed a firefighter on the south-facing roof slip, fall, and slide down about 15 feet before falling 35 feet onto the first-floor sheet metal roof. The FF-EMT then slid down another 20 feet before coming to rest at the ice guard near the edge of the first-floor metal roof. The FF-EMT was unresponsive. He was extracted from the roof by Engine 8’s (E8) crew. On-scene paramedics found the FF-EMT with severe head and chest trauma, unresponsive with no pulse or respirations. Despite immediate advanced life support administered on-scene, during transport, and in the local hospital, the FF-EMT succumbed to his injuries. He was pronounced deceased at 0242 hours. The death certificate and autopsy were completed by a forensic pathologist from a County Coroner’s office. The death certificate listed several traumatic injuries “due to a blunt force trauma from [a] 34.5-foot fall.”

Contributing Factors

  • Aerial apparatus could not be utilized due to lack of access to Side Charlie
  • Insufficient situational awareness
  • Adverse environmental conditions (snow and possible ice on the building’s roof)
  • Breakdown in communication components of the department’s incident command system
  • Lack of a fire department roof access/operations policy
  • Insufficient roof training exercises
  • Breakdown of crew integrity.

Key Recommendations

  • Fire departments should ensure all firefighters and other personnel responding to a fire scene are trained in situational awareness and personal safety, particularly during adverse environmental conditions
  • Fire departments should ensure all firefighters and fire officers follow NFPA 1561 (Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System and Command Safety) and their individual department’s standard operating guidelines (SOG) for incident command
  • Fire departments should develop and enforce an SOG for roof access/operations and develop classroom and practical roof training exercises
  • Fire departments should ensure firefighters responding to hazardous areas during emergency incidents maintain crew integrity.

Read the full report

Report Slides