Question from a Reader, Part II

By Bill Carey
19 March 2023

The data in Part I is raw, focusing on the reader’s question about firefighter line of duty deaths in commercial buildings. It should be easy to notice a few outliers. Part II will break down the details for a better, specific answer.

From the 41 deaths related to commercial structures from 2012 to 2022, we can parse the numbers and look at construction, victim activity, and cause of death, to notice any possible trends. They are listed below as the number of incidents and not the number of victims.

Building Type
I have separated the fatality incidents into several categories, the first being building type, and ranked them from most to least.

Agricultural: 3
Food Service: 3
Mixed-Occupancy (retail use on the first floor and residential use on the floors above): 3
Retail/Wholesale: 3
Storage: 2
Assembly: 1
Library: 1
Office: 1
Theater: 1

Three fatality incidents involved abandoned buildings.

Barn: 1
Retail: 1
Warehouse: 1

One fatality incident involved a commercial structure under renovation for residential use.

In context with the reader’s question, we remove the outliers. There are three agriculture incidents where no one was inside a structure. We also take out the abandoned buildings and the one under renovation. One incident involving an office building and one involving a bar were natural gas explosions where the victims were outside the structure. Remove those, and the total number is now 13. If we only count those operating inside the fire building, not in an exposure building, on the exterior, or in a post-fire collapse, the total number of incidents drops to nine.

Strip Mall: 3
San Antonio, TX
Pineville, NC
Westland, MI 

Restaurant: 2
Decaturville, TN
Houston, TX 

Assembly: 1
Bryan, TX | Bryan, TX

Library: 1
Porterville, CA | Porterville, CA 

Storage: 1
New Carlisle, IN 

Theater: 1
Colby, WI

Among these, there were several commonalities seen in the investigation reports. The list below is contributing factors repeated in three or more line of duty death reports:

Lack of fire sprinkler system
Crew integrity
SCBA air management
Ineffective Mayday
Fireground communications 


From 2012 to 2022 the USFA lists 41 firefighter fatalities related to commercial structure fires. Breaking that number down into interior deaths and the total is 15. Three incidents had multiple fatalities; two in Porterville, CA, two in Bryan, TX, and five in Houston, TX.

Photograph courtesy of NIOSH/Texas State Fire Marshal.

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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