(NIOSH/Cindy Iutzi, Daily Gate City, Iowa)
On December 22, 1999, a 49-year-old Shift Commander (Victim #1) and two Engine Operators, 39 and 29 years of age respectively (Victim #2 and Victim #3), lost their lives while performing search-and-rescue operations at a residential structure fire.
At approximately 0823 hours, the three victims and two additional fire fighters cleared the scene of a motor-vehicle incident. One of the fire fighters (Fire Fighter #1) riding on Engine 3, joined the ambulance crew to transport an injured patient to the hospital. At approximately 0824 hours, Central Dispatch was notified of a structure fire with three children possibly trapped inside.
At approximately 0825 hours, Central Dispatch notified the fire department, and a Shift Commander and an Engine Operator (Victim #1 and Victim #2 ) were dispatched to the scene in the Quint (Aerial Truck 2). At 0827 hours, Engine 3 (Lieutenant and Victim #3) responded to the scene. At 0829 hours as Aerial Truck 2 approached the scene, they radioed Central Dispatch, reporting white to dark brown smoke showing from the residence, and requested six additional fire fighters.
Aerial Truck 2 arrived on the scene at 0830 hours. The crew of Aerial Truck 2 witnessed a woman and child trapped on the porch roof, and they were informed that three children were trapped inside the house. A police officer who was already on the scene positioned a ladder to the roof and removed the woman and child as Victim #1 proceeded into the house to perform a search-and-rescue operation. Engine 3 arrived on the scene shortly after, and the Lieutenant connected a supply line to the hydrant as Victim #3 pulled the Engine into position. The Lieutenant and Victim #3 stretched a 5-inch supply line and connected it to Aerial Truck 2. At approximately 0831 hours, the Chief and Fire Fighter #1 arrived on the scene, and the Chief assumed Incident Command (IC). Fire Fighter #1 pulled a 1½ -inch handline off Aerial Truck 2, through the front door and placed it in the front room. The IC instructed Victim #2 and Victim #3 to don their protective gear and proceed into the house to assist in the search-and-rescue operations. Fire Fighter #1 went back to Aerial Truck 2 to gear up.
At this time, one of the victims removed the first of the three children from the structure, handed the child to a police reserve officer near the front entrance of the structure, and returned to the structure to continue search-and-rescue operations. The police reserve officer transported the child to a nearby hospital. The IC charged the handline from Aerial Truck 2 and went to the structure. At this time one of the victims removed a second child. The IC grabbed the child and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Due to limited personnel on the fireground, the IC directed a police officer on the scene to transport him and the child to the hospital. After donning her gear, Fire Fighter #1 approached the front door and noticed that the 1½-inch handline (previously stretched) had been burned through and water was free-flowing.
It is believed that the three victims were hit with a thermal blast of heat before the handline burned through. The three victims failed to exit as 12 additional fire fighters arrived on the scene through a call-back method and began fire suppression and search-and-rescue operations. Victim #2 was located, removed, and transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Victim #1 and Victim #3 were later found and pronounced dead on the scene.
NIOSH investigators concluded that to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:
- ensure that adequate numbers of staff are available to immediately respond to emergency incidents
- ensure that Incident Command conducts an initial size-up of the incident before initiating fire fighting efforts, and continually evaluates the risk versus gain during operations at an incident
- ensure fire fighters are trained in the tactics of defensive search
- ensure that fire command always maintains close accountability for all personnel at the fire scene
- ensure that fireground communication is present through both the use of portable radios and face-to-face communications
- ensure that a trained Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) is established and in position immediately upon arrival
- ensure that fire fighters wear and use PASS devices when involved in interior fire fighting and other hazardous duties