NIOSH LODD Report: South Dakota Firefighter Killed in Structure Fire Collapse

NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention
NIOSH LODD Report: South Dakota Firefighter Killed in Structure Fire Collapse
View from rear sliding doors looking into the kitchen and the floor collapse in the kitchen area. The entry into the kitchen is just to the right of the refrigerator. (Courtesy of the Fire Marshall’s Office/NIOSH)

On April 12, 2015, a 38-year-old male volunteer fire fighter died in a floor collapse while working above a residential basement fire. At 22:09 hours, the local volunteer fire department, neighboring mutual aid volunteer fire department, county emergency management, and a medic unit were dispatched to a residential house fire with an occupant inside. 

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Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies in a Floor Collapse While Working Above a Residential Basement Fire

The caller reported to Dispatch that the fire was in the basement. Due to the similarity in street names, the address was corrected a minute later by Dispatch. The fire chief was first on-scene and was informed that the male homeowner would be near the master bathroom. The chief reported smoke coming from the garage and requested mutual aid from two other volunteer departments. 

The first engine on-scene took a 1¾-inch hoseline and forced the front door. Heavy, brown smoke was banked to the floor. The crew searched the bathroom then heard erratic breathing and located the homeowner on the floor near the bed. The homeowner was stuck on something but they moved him toward the bedroom double doors. 

After approximately 20 minutes on-scene, a third crew was able to get him out. A crew with a 1¾-inch hoseline from the neighboring department made entry on the first floor through the garage. They went through the laundry room, across the hallway, and into the kitchen where they encountered heavy heat, smoke, and fire. 

The third fire fighter on the line yelled to get out, then the other two fire fighters heard a loud explosion and were surrounded by fire. They backed out, following the hoseline. Once outside, they thought the third fire fighter was already out. 

An evacuation order was given and a personnel accountability report was called. Responding companies all gave a positive report, including the neighboring department. Finally, it was realized that the third fire fighter was missing. 

A crew made entry down to the basement via the interior stairs and were searching for the fire but was driven back by heat, smoke, and water that had collected in the basement. Crews searched and noticed that the floor had collapsed in an area in the hallway on Side D and in the kitchen. A hole was cut in the exterior wall on Side D above the collapsed floor in the hallway, exposing a view into the basement. The crew noticed the reflective trim on the downed fire fighter’s turnout gear in the debris in the basement. 

A recovery was made at 09:37 hours, after the local urban search and rescue team arrived to shore up the structure so the fire fighter could be safely removed.

Contributing Factors:

  • Delay in notification to the fire department
  • Delay in fire suppression
  • Blood alcohol level above the legal limit
  • Concealed basement fire
  • Crew integrity
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus operation/maintenance
  • Fireground communications
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    Key Recommendations:

  • Fire departments should ensure that a fire attack is conducted concurrently with rescue operations and a risk-versus-gain analysis is done after the rescue is completed.
  • Fire departments should ensure that officers and fire fighters are trained in current basement fire strategies and tactics.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a zero-tolerance alcohol policy is established and enforced.
  • Fire departments should ensure that an accountability system is established prior to entry and personnel accountability reports are accurate.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a respiratory protection program is established and maintained.
  • Fire departments should ensure that SCBAs are functional and maintained in accordance with manufacturer guidelines.
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters wear proper personal protective equipment on the fireground.
  • Fire departments should ensure that a staging area manager is assigned to the staging area to release crews once assignments are given.
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    Additionally, local governments should:

  • Consider requiring fire fighters be trained to state minimum training requirements.
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