Question from a Reader

By Bill Carey
13 January 2023

“How many firefighters have actually died in the past 1,5,15,20 years, due to actual training prop issues, i.e thermal insult, asphyxiation/suffocation due to smoke or toxic gas inhalation, unexpected flashover etc.?”

The data below comes from the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and covers on-duty deaths under the duty type “Training” from 2002 to 2022. Based on the reader’s question, the data only includes traumatic deaths versus non-traumatic (heart attack, cardiac arrest, stroke, and others related) and those involving live burns.

Four deaths are the answer to the question. Three deaths occurred at an acquired structure and the fourth at a training facility. All of the victims in this data range were career firefighters.

The cause of death of all four is Caught/Trapped. The nature of death is Asphyxiation for two and Burns for two. The was one multiple-fatality incident that involved two victims.

30 July 2002 (multi-fatality), Florida
Abandoned single-family occupancy
The fuel package consisted of five wood pallets, a bale of straw, and a twin mattress inside a closet.
The victims were the search team and entered the structure ahead of a charged hoseline.
Nature of Death: Asphyxiation (smoke inhalation and thermal injuries)
Lieutenant John K. Mickel
Firefighter Dallas Brandon Begg
NIOSH report

23 October 2005, Pennsylvania
State fire academy burn building, basement room
The fuel package used consists of wooden pallets and excelsior. The burn room is lined with material to retain heat.
The victim, an instructor, apparently suffered a catastrophic failure of his SCBA facepiece leading to his collapse inside the fire room.
Nature of Death: Burns (thermal trauma)
Captain Robert Gerald Gallardy
NIOSH report

9 February 2007, Maryland
Abandoned rowhouse
The fuel package consisted of several wooden pallets, several bales of excelsior, and trash from inside the structure. Fuel packages were on all three floors and fuel was placed in openings in the ceilings and walls and ductwork.
Fire conditions force the victim and others to exit the third floor onto a rear second-floor roof. The victim became stuck inside on the window sill and fell back inside. It is unknown if the victim’s SCBA facepiece came off after the fall inside or if the victim had removed it due to past incidents of panic.
Nature of Death: Burns (thermal injuries and asphyxia)
Firefighter-Paramedic Apprentice Racheal Michelle Wilson
NIOSH report

Three of the victims were students, one specifically was a recruit. The victim that was the instructor was one of two instructors responsible for setting the fire. A rapid intervention crew was in place in all three incidents.

Commonalities from all three incidents are:
– Poor knowledge and use of fuels
– Poor coordination/communication of ignition
– Problems with the design or layout of the burn room
– Poor communication during the incident
– SOGs were not followed
– No permit/review process for acquired structures

Fire behavior was a leading commonality (not mainly causal but highly common) in all four deaths. Several contributing factors are involved in each fatality however in the actual training itself it is the effects of the fire that became the catalyst for the tragedies.

In Florida, it is believed a flashover occurred after a window in the burn room was ventilated. In Pennsylvania, it is believed that the burn room was not allowed to cool down between evolutions and so heat remained built up. This is also linked to the victim’s facepiece failure due to repeated exposure. In Maryland, fuel packages were lit on fire on the victim’s floor and the floor below, and fuel was also placed inside ductwork and openings in walls and ceilings.

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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