Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE 99-F06, 1999 May; :1-4
On January 19, 1999, a 43-year-old male career fire investigator (the victim) was killed during an investigation to determine the origin and cause of a residential fire that occurred on January 14, 1999. The victim, as part of his regular duties, met with an insurance adjuster, a private fire investigator and an electrical consultant at the fire scene about 1030 hours on the day of the incident. All four men proceeded to the attic area of the remaining structure to conduct the investigation. About 10 minutes into the investigation, the insurance adjuster left the area and proceeded to the floors below to continue his review of the damage. The other three men, including the victim, remained in the attic and sifted through debris looking for clues to the origin of the fire. After working for 2 and a half hours near the front section of the attic, they moved to an area in proximity to a brick chimney that was free-standing about 13 feet above the floor level of the attic. After discussing the stability of the chimney, the three men decided to continue work near the chimney. Note: Although all three men commented to one another that they had seen the chimney swaying slightly in the gusty breeze, they believed it was fairly stable because it had been free-standing for 5 days, in all weather conditions. Also, the chimney had not moved when the private investigator pushed and pulled on the stabilizing bar that was connected to it. The victim had positioned himself about 8 feet away and directly in line with the base of the chimney while the other investigators, although also in proximity to the chimney, were off to one side. The three men were sifting through and inspecting the debris when the chimney suddenly and silently collapsed and fell onto the victim. The sound of the chimney hitting the floor alerted the other two men. After realizing what had occurred, they tried to lift the chimney off the victim, but it was too heavy. One of the men ran to a neighboring house and called 911. At this time another fire investigator arrived on the scene and was apprised of the situation. He used his fire radio to call for a rescue company. Within a few minutes, two fire Chiefs arrived on the scene and the five men were able to lift the chimney off the victim. Emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation was initiated and the victim was transported to the local hospital where he later died of his injuries. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should: conduct an assessment of the stability and safety of the structure, e.g., roofs, ceilings, partitions, load-bearing walls, floors, and chimneys before entering damaged, e.g., by fire or water, structures for the purpose of investigations.