The sky is falling
By Bill Carey
Originally published 29 December 2015.
A Twitter post of San Francisco firefighters on the roof of a burning apartment building had a photo of firefighters on the roof of the burning building. The immediate thought was the immediate, typical and tired outrage usually presented when that visual image is shared.
“There is no need to be on the roof,” “Vertical ventilation is too dangerous,” “Why be on the roof of a building that is already vented?” And “This is how we’re killing firefighters every year.” That last one is a favorite for it shows a laziness toward knowing and understanding our fireground fatality data.
So, what does the data actually show? We have to go back to 2011 to find a firefighter killed while performing vertical ventilation of a burning structure. On 14 August 2011 a Dallas Fire-Rescue lieutenant was with another firefighter preparing to ventilate the roof of a burning apartment building when the decking material failed and lieutenant fell into the attic space . Firefighters ended up having to cut joists to free the lieutenant and turn him over to EMS. Despite their efforts, the victim was overcome (he was not wearing his SCBA facepiece) and died of his injuries at the hospital .
Since then, the United States Fire Administration only lists two other firefighter fatalities under the activity type “Ventilation.” One is a Philadelphia captain who while walking on the roof of an adjoining building toward the fire building fell 20 feet through the roof of fire building .” The captain had his facepiece on as he was moving towards Side Alpha of the smoke obscured roof when he fell. A PAR later determined he was missing. He was freed from the structure approximately two hours later .
The other fatality involved a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey at the scene of a commercial structure fire.” On 28 February 2014 the victim suffered a heart attack while ventilating the roof of a burning restaurant and fell from the structure .
Some may say “what about the Denver firefighter from this year?” and they would be correct to include him. On 15 June the Engineer was checking for extension on the roof of an abandoned warehouse during a dumpster fire when he fell through a skylight . Severely injured, he died in the hospital several days later.
Unfortunately the USFA does not list the Denver Engineer’s activity type as “Ventilation” but rather “Driving/Riding Personal Vehicle.” We called this to your attention earlier.
So, while we do have plenty of near-miss stories such as the captain in Fresno, the truth – and a truth we should be proud of – is that we are not killing hundreds or even dozens of firefighters every year by putting them on the roof. We have to look at what measures over time have positively contributed to a low number of related fatalities while at the same time not allow ourselves to be guided by fear-mongering and assumptions about our on-duty deaths.
What do you think has had an impact in this low number of firefighter fatalities?
1. Todd Wesley Krodle, Dallas Fire Department
2. “Career Lieutenant Dies After Being Trapped in the Attic After Falling Through a Roof While Conducting Ventilation – Texas” F2011-20 NIOSH, 27 June 2012
3. Michael Robert Goodwin, Sr. Philadelphia Fire Department
4. “Career Captain Dies Conducting Roof Operations at a Commercial Structure Fire – Pennsylvania” F2013-07 NIOSH, 16 July 2014
5. Gregory “Barney” D. Barnas, Wallington Fire Department
“Fresno Fire Captain Shows Remarkable Recovery” FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com 13 July 2015
“Report: Fresno Roof Failure and Firefighter Injury” FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com 3 April 2015
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.