Question from a Reader, Part I

By Bill Carey
5 March 2023

“Do you know the number of firefighters killed in commercial building fires over the last 10 years?”

From 2022 to 2012 there have been 41 deaths related to commercial structures as recorded and defined by the United States Fire Administration. The date range and broad criteria bring in many outliers that should be known when using this data. This information will be broken down into two parts. The first part will be the raw data and the second will be the details.

2022: 1
Philadelphia, PA
Three-story mixed occupancy (pizza shop with apartments above). Post-fire collapse during overhaul inspection. Buried under collapsed floors and wall. Investigation revealed prior unpermitted construction. NIOSH report 2022-02 pending.

2021: 0

2020: 3 (one multi-fatality incident with two victims)
Kearneysville, WV
Abandoned barn. Struck by falling beam. Investigation determined arson. NIOSH report 2021-09 pending.
Porterville, CA | Porterville, CA
Occupied library. Pair entered based on a report of a handicapped person still inside and became disoriented/lost. No hoseline was used. Confirmation of the handicapped person outside was not relayed to the victims. Investigation determined arson. NIOSH report | department report.

2019: 3
Clinton, IA
Grain silo. Victim was flowing water through a hatch on the top of the silo when an explosion occurred. Cause not reported. NIOSH report 2019-01 pending.
Farmington, ME
One-story office building. Victim was outside while investigating a gas leak when an explosion occurred. Improper installation of bollards severed the gas line. NIOSH report.
Christopher, IL
Two-story abandoned building, formerly sold office furniture. Victim was caught in a stairway collapse while using an attic ladder as a bridge over the stairway. NIOSH report.

2018: 4 (one multi-fatality incident with two victims)
York, PA | York, PA
140-year-old mill being converted into and apartment building. Victims were killed in a day-after post-fire collapse while extinguishing hot spots. NIOSH report.
New York, NY
Residential brownstone that was converted for movie production use. USFA lists property as “Industry.” Victim became separated from crew, disoriented and lost while fighting fire in the basement. No report available.
Sun Prairie, WI
One-story bar in the middle of two two-story mixed occupancy structures. Victim was outside investigating a gas leak when the bar exploded. NIOSH report.

2017: 1
San Antonio, TX
One-story strip mall. Victim and fire were in a retail gym, exercise equipment store. Victim was searching for fire as conditions deteriorated. Victim became disoriented. Investigation determined arson. NIOSH report | department report.

2016: 2
Pineville, NC
One-story strip mall complex. Victim became disoriented. NIOSH report.
Fremont County, WY
In-ground farm bunker. Victim fell through roof during grass and structure fire in 2015 and died from injuries in 2016. No report available.

2015: 4 (one multi-fatality incident with two victims)
Chicago, IL
Two-story abandoned warehouse. Victim fell down an open elevator shaft while searching for fire. NIOSH report.
Denver, CO
One-story storage building for two businesses. Victim fell through a translucent roof panel while checking for extension from a dumpster fire. NIOSH report.
Kansas City, MO | Kansas City, MO
Two-story mixed occupancy group, commercial on the first floor and residential above. Victims were outside when they were caught in a wall collapse. Investigation determined arson. NIOSH report | department report.

2014: 1
New Carlisle, IN
An inter-connected storage building holding trucks and equipment for a septic service company. The victim was caught in a collapsing truss system. NIOSH report.

2013: 18 (one multi-fatality incident with two victims) (one multi-fatality incident with nine victims) (one multi-fatality incident with five victims)
Bryan, TX | Bryan, TX
Fire in a service orginization facility (Knights of Columbus hall). One victim became lost/disoriented. The other victim (RIT) also became lost. Both were caught in a flashover. NIOSH report | department report
Philadelphia, PA
Fire in a three-story mixed-occupancy structure (fabric store on first floor with apartments above). Victim was on roof of an exposure building for vertical ventilation. While crossing from the exposure to the fire building the victim misjudged the roof and fell 20 feet through the roof of the fire building. NIOSH report.
West, TX
Fertilizer processing plant. Explosion during a fire killed nine firefighters. NIOSH report | department report.
Westland, MI
Fire in a pool hall in a strip mall. Victim became disoriented and ran out of air, later found under collapsed roof. NIOSH report.
Houston, TX
Restaurant. Five firefighters caught in a roof collapse. NIOSH report | department report.

2012: 4 (one multi-fatality incident with two victims)
Colby, WI
Movie theater. Victim inside was caught in a roof collapse while a elevated master stream was operating. NIOSH report.
Decaturville, TN
Restaurant. Victim caught in a roof collapse while withdrawing from inside the structure. No report available.
Philadelphia, PA | Philadelphia, PA
Abandoned five-story factory mill. Victims were operating inside an exposure building when a wall collapse of the fire building occurred. NIOSH report.

Part II will look into more details regarding these deaths, such as construction, activity type, and more.

Photograph courtesy of North Carolina State Fire Marshal/NIOSH.

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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