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Career fire fighter dies while diving for a civilian drowning victim - Rhode Island.

Miles ST
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 F2008-32, 2009 Oct; :1-22
On August 3, 2008, a 52-year-old male fire fighter (the victim) died while diving during a search for a civilian drowning victim. The victim was found unconscious on the surface of the lake after he had descended in SCUBA gear trying to locate the civilian drowning victim. The victim was off-duty and had responded to the scene in his personal watercraft with his personal dive gear. The local fire department had already rescued one civilian from the surface of the lake using a fire department boat and had marked the approximate location of the recovery with a buoy and anchor. A civilian boat was utilized to transport the surviving civilian to a local marina while the fire department boat remained on the scene performing a surface search for the second civilian. The victim arrived on the scene, and after a brief conversation with the fire fighters on the boat, began his dive in the area of the buoy. The fire fighters on the boat observed the fire fighter descend and then communicated to divers arriving by another fire department boat that there was a diver under the water in the area of the buoy. The arriving divers observed the buoy and another object floating in the water in the area of the buoy and recognized that object as a diver's tank valve. After determining that the tank valve was the victim's, the divers tried to communicate with the victim and discovered he was unconscious, facedown with his regulator out of his mouth. A Mayday was radioed for a diver in distress and divers entered the water and were able to place the victim in an inflatable boat that was delivering additional divers to the scene. Resuscitation efforts were initiated and continued during transport to shore. The victim was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include: inadequate capacity of the fire department to lead and conduct a technical rescue SCUBA diving operation, insufficient training and experience of the victim to participate in a technical rescue diving operation, and the victim's physical health and condition which increased risks for an adverse health outcome. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should: 1. ensure that an effective incident management system is in place that supports technical rescue operations. 2. ensure that public safety divers are properly trained, equipped, and supported to perform public safety diving responsibilities. 3. ensure that a safety officer properly trained in the technical rescue field being performed is on scene and integrated into the command structure. 4. ensure that standard operating procedures regarding technical rescue capabilities are in place and enforced for all levels of water rescue specialty areas including SCUBA diving. 5. ensure a comprehensive risk-benefit program is in place prior to participating in specialty areas including technical rescue professional level operations. 6. ensure that programs are in place to provide for training and equipment (including vessels) expected for water rescue and the inspection, maintenance, testing, and replacement of water rescue equipment including SCUBA gear. 7. provide annual and periodic health, wellness, and fitness examinations with specific medical evaluations for fire fighters expected to perform technical rescues such as SCUBA diving. 8. adopt the International Association of Fire Chief's Zero-Tolerance Policy for Alcohol and Drinking to prohibit the use of alcohol by members of any fire or emergency services agency/organization at any time when they may be called upon to act or respond as a member of those departments. Departments should develop written policies and have procedures in place to enforce this policy. Additionally, the following recommendations are preventative measures recommended by other fire service groups to reduce cardiovascular events among fire fighters. Fire departments should consider: 1. phasing in a mandatory wellness/fitness program for fire fighters to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease and improve cardiovascular capacity. 2. performing a preplacement and an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation for all fire fighters to ensure they are physically capable of performing the essential job tasks of fire fighting. 3. ensuring that physicians are knowledgeable about the physical demands of fire fighting and the components of NFPA 1582 and the additional medical and physical requirements of performing technical rescuer SCUBA diving.
Region-1; Fire-fighters; Emergency-responders; Divers; Diving; Diving-equipment; Self-contained-underwater-breathing-apparatus; Scuba-divers; Accident-analysis; Accident-prevention; Accidents; Training; Cardiovascular-disease; Cardiovascular-system-disease; Cardiovascular-system-disorders; Alcoholic-beverages; Physical-fitness; Surveillance
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Document Type
Field Studies; Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation
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Services: Public Safety
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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division