NIOSH has released their findings in the line of duty deaths of Wilmington (DE) Lt. Jerry Fickes, Capt. Chris Leach and Lt. Ardythe Hope on September 24, 2016. So now what and how does that impact you as a probie, a firefighter, a company officer or especially as a chief officer? How does this impact your fire department?
Once again, this is an opportunity for every one of us to compare the circumstances and the findings at that fire to the way our own departments operate daily, as there is no better way to honor their tragic deaths.
What Did the Report Find?
Among several areas of concern, it identifies the following contributing factors that lead to their deaths:
- Lack on an established continuous and uninterrupted water supply.
- Lack of scene size-up and risk assessment.
- Lack of a 360 as part of the initial size up.
- Lack of incident management.
- Lack of command safety role.
- Lack of an incident action plan.
- Inappropriate fireground tactics for basement (below grade) fires.
- Lack of company/crew integrity.
- Lack of a personnel accountability system.
- Lack of rapid intervention crew(s).
- Ineffective fireground communications.
- Lack of continuous professional development for Fire Officers and Firefighters.
The first-due battalion chief brought the accountability board to the scene and hung it on a fence in front of the house to keep track of personnel. But no one was assigned to manage and update it. What is the policy at your fire department for genuine, no BS, it really works, fireground accountability? What are the expected roles of the companies to insure command knows what they are doing?
Throughout the incident, Command was not completely aware of what resources from what agencies were in the structure conducting firefighting operations. With more and more auto-mutual aid, and mutual aid, companies must display the strictest of discipline so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, and that those in command/accountability are fully aware. This can be done with minimal radio traffic when polices and discipline are in place.
The situation was made worse when the first floor of the building collapsed and radio communications "became quickly overwhelmed.” Radio discipline policy that is repetitively trained on regularly and used daily along with staffing at the command level can minimize this.
Command did not know the actual number of firefighters that had fallen into the basement or their location.
Command was not aware of fireground operations going on at the rear of the house. Assigning arriving command level officers solves that problem. If your on-duty staffing doesn't provide for that come up with an off-duty response policy for box alarms (for those take-home-car personnel) or institute auto-mutual aid command level responses on the initial alarm. When you do that they must all have the same policies and an equal level of training.
The department had no standard operating procedure for tackling basement fires.
The traditional procedure for any structure fire was to go through the front door. This was the case despite knowing there was a possibility of basement fires
The incident commander lacked a Mayday checklist. Here are two excellent samples you can use today (click on title for complete version):
Due to issues with radio communications and the urgency to locate the missing fire fighters, the incident commander was quickly overwhelmed. Radio use and discipline is often assumed but assuming so won't work. Drills based upon policy using radios to practice over and over what to say, how to say it. and when to say it, is a big deal. Less is more but insuring the message is clear is equally important.
There were no additional resources on scene to designate as another RIC team. The initial RIT or On Deck crew is in place and hopefully is automatic on your first alarm assignment, but what's next? How many firefighters do you have on deck or ready in staging if the RIT team is assigned?
The fire department lacked annual proficiency training and evaluation. Are we good? How good? How do we know? With the mantra from Gordon Graham of "Every day is a training day" we cannot miss the opportunity to mandate regularly scheduled, policy-based training to show ourselves how good we are.
Here is the report. We are pleading with you to take this information and genuinely evaluate yours and each of our departments.
RIP Lt. Jerry Fickes, Capt. Chris Leach and Lt. Ardythe Hope and a hope of peace to all those WFD members and other agencies involved with and surviving this fire.