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, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2010-153, 2010 Jul; :1-21
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requests assistance in preventing deaths and injuries of U.S. fire fighters working in or around burning structures. The mission of the U.S. fire service is to save lives and property. While it is recognized that fire fighting is an inherently hazardous occupation, established fire service risk management principles are based on the philosophy that greater risks will be assumed when there are lives to be saved and the level of acceptable risk to fire fighters is much lower when only property is at stake. Interior (inside a structure) offensive fire-fighting operations can increase the risk of traumatic injury and death to fire fighters from structural collapse, burns, and asphyxiation. Established risk management principles suggest that more caution should be exercised in abandoned, vacant, and unoccupied structures and in situations where there is no clear evidence indicating that people are trapped inside a structure and can be saved. When the incident commander (IC) has determined that there are no lives to save and the property can no longer be preserved through offensive operations, defensive tactics should be initiated in order to decrease the risk to fire fighters. This Alert describes 4 incidents that resulted in the deaths of 5 fire fighters and injuries to 10 others during operations in and around structures with considerable fire involvement where there were indications that the buildings were unoccupied. NIOSH recommends that fire departments review their occupational safety and health programs, risk management plans, training programs, and standard operating procedures and guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) to ensure that they include appropriate safe-work practices and policies to avoid the loss of fire fighters' lives when civilian lives are not in immediate danger. NIOSH requests that the information in this Alert be brought to the attention of all U.S. fire departments and fire fighters. To bring the recommendations in this Alert to the attention of the fire service community, NIOSH requests help from fire commissioners, fire chiefs, state and local fire district administrators, state fire marshals, incident safety officers, trainers, fire investigators, unions, professional organizations, trade associations, insurance companies, and editors of trade journals and other publications.