By Bill Carey
12 February 2023
“An instructor told me we should never search without a hoseline because most LODDs involving search did not have a hoseline. Is this true?”
Searching with or without a hoseline is one of the many debates that arise annually. For one reason or another, most of these debates boil down to the impression that to do it without a charged hoseline is extremely dangerous and that our fatality numbers prove it so.
The reader asked about the number of line of duty deaths over 10 years and whether or not there was a hoseline was used. The data presented is not intended to influence a department’s tactics. Instead, it is to show the factual data on the specific question and put right any falsehoods about the topic in our education.
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) has 37 firefighter on-duty fatalities listed under the activity type Search and Rescue from 2012 to 2022. It is a broad activity type that ranges from searching for a woods fire to searching for a drowning victim and nearly everything in between. These deaths also include emergency incidents and training.
When we count only those deaths that involved a structure fire we are left with 19 of the 37. I am setting aside two deaths that while they fit the mission of search do not fit the statement posed in the question.
2014, North Carolina
In the Kentucky fire, the victim responded to a fire near his home. Believing there was an occupant inside he entered, without any protective equipment, and was killed while searching. In North Carolina, the fire was in the victim’s residence and he died while rescuing his family. Neither in my opinion should be used to prove or disprove an issue about searching without a hoseline.
Here is the breakdown of the other deaths and their available investigative reports.
Hoseline(s) Present (9):
2013, Texas. Commercial Structure
The victim was part of a three-firefighter RIT sent to rescue a trapped lieutenant from the initial crew. The initial crew had a hoseline and a hoseline was being operated to cover the RIT. Flashover conditions enveloped the firefighters (NIOSH report | state report).
2013, Maryland. House
The victim entered ahead of the hoseline to search for the occupant reported to be inside. The report points to freelancing, uncoordinated response, and the victim leaving the radio in the apparatus. (NIOSH report)
2014, New York. High-Rise Apartment Building
The victim was searching in an apartment that had hoarding conditions. A hoseline was present. Hoselines were present before each collapse. (NIOSH report)
2016, Delaware | Delaware. Rowhome
Victims were killed in a second collapse while working to rescue firefighters in the previous collapse. (NIOSH report)
2017, Texas. Commercial Structure
The victim became separated from another firefighter during a search for fire. A hoseline and engine company were with the victim. The reports indicate uncoordinated ventilation, “penciling,” and freelancing. (NIOSH report | state report)
2019, Maine. Apartment Building
The victim and others left the nozzle to search and became overwhelmed by fire conditions. The victim used his body as a shield to protect the other firefighter.
2019, Illinois. Commercial Structure
The victim was killed in a stairway collapse. The stairway had burned through and the victim and other firefighter firefighters advanced a hoseline over the ladder, as a bridge over the stairs. When the firefighters withdrew the stairs and ladder collapsed with the victim. (NIOSH report)
2019, Massachusetts. Apartment Building
The victim and others were cut off from an engine company and trapped by fire and a stairway collapse. (NIOSH report)
Hoseline(s) Not Present (8):
2013, Texas. Apartment Building
The victim (an officer of a truck company on the fourth alarm) was killed in a collapse while searching an area that had been covered by ladder pipe streams. (NIOSH report | state report)
2015, Ohio. Mid-Rise Apartment Building
Fell down an elevator shaft during a search for occupants. (NIOSH report)
2015, Illinois. Warehouse.
Fell down an elevator shaft during a search for fire. (NIOSH report)
2020, California | California. Library
Two victims entered without a hoseline and became low on air and disoriented while searching for a person reported to be inside. It was confirmed the person was out but that information was not relayed to the victims. (NIOSH report)
2021, Oklahoma | Oklahoma. House
Two victims were killed in a collapse trying to rescue two trapped occupants. Unknown if a hoseline was in service.
2021, New York. Assisted-Living Facility
The victim was searching for occupants and became trapped by fire. There is no reporting that a hoseline was present with the victim.
It should be easily seen that whether a hoseline is present or not is not the main or most significant item in these fatalities. The data does dispute the thought that if a hoseline were present during the search there would be no line of duty deaths. The complexities of fire departments and the fireground easily tell us that tragedy cannot be narrowed down to one sole contributing factor.
Out of 37 on-duty deaths listed under Search and Rescue for the last 10 years, 17 occurred on a fireground. Of those 17, nine had a hoseline present and eight did not. Of the eight that did not, five involved fire, and three involved structural collapses. In this time span, the answer to the question is “no.” The slight majority of victims had a hoseline with them or in the same area they were operating in.
Photograph courtesy of Bill Carey.
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