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 F2008-37, 2010 Jan; :1-32
On November 15, 2008, a 38-year-old male fire fighter (the victim) died after being crushed by a roof collapse in a vacant/abandoned building. Fire fighters initially used a defensive fire attack to extinguish much of the fire showing from the second-floor windows on arrival. After the initial knockdown, fire crews entered the second floor to perform overhaul operations. During overhaul, the roof collapsed with several fire fighters still inside, on the second floor. The victim and two other fire fighters were trapped under a section of the roof. Crews were able to rescue two fire fighters (who self-extricated), but could not immediately find the victim. After cutting through roofing materials, the victim was located by fire fighters, unconscious and unresponsive. He was removed from the structure and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include: dilapidated building conditions, incendiary fire originating in the unprotected structural roof members, inadequate risk-versus-gain analysis prior to committing to interior operations involving a vacant/abandoned structure, inadequate accountability system, lack of a safety officer, an inadequate maintenance program for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and a poorly maintained and likely inoperable personal alert safety systems (PASS), ineffective strategies for the prevention of and the remediation of vacant/abandoned structures and arson prevention. NIOSH investigators concluded that to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should: 1. ensure that the incident commander conducts a risk-versus-gain analysis prior to committing to interior operations in vacant/abandoned structures and continues the assessment throughout the operations; 2. ensure SOPs are developed for fighting fires in vacant/abandoned buildings; 3. ensure that the incident commander maintains close accountability for all personnel operating on the fireground; 4. ensure that a separate incident safety officer, independent from the incident commander, is appointed at each structure fire; 5. ensure that a respiratory protection program is in place to provide for the selection, care, maintenance, and use of respiratory protection equipment, including PASS devices. Additionally, municipalities and local authorities having jurisdiction should develop strategies for the prevention of and the remediation of vacant/abandoned structures and for arson prevention. Although there is no evidence that the following recommendations could have prevented this fatality, NIOSH investigators recommend that fire departments: 1. ensure that an EMS unit is on scene and available for fire fighter emergency care at working structure fires; 2. develop inspection criteria to ensure that all protective ensembles meet the requirements of NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting; 3. be aware of programs that provide assistance in obtaining alternative funding, such as grant funding, to replace or purchase fire equipment that can support critical fire department operations.