By Bill Carey
18 April 2023
The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program has released the report on the line of duty death of a firefighter from Maine on 1 March 2019. The initial report from the United States Fire Administration stated that the victim, Captain Joel Patrick Barnes, had used his body to protect another firefighter trapped by fire. This death was one of eight in recent years under the activity type ‘Search.'
An expert technical review was done by Jake Hoffman of the Toledo Fire Department. The report lists seven contributing factors:
- Incomplete size-up and risk assessment
- Lack of incident management
- Lack of personnel accountability
- Inadequate fireground communications
- Rapid fire spread in the interior center stairwell
- Lack of situational awareness
- Lack of fire sprinkler system in a multi-family residential occupancy.
The initial alarm was for smoke in the building and a person trapped. The victim was the captain of the first-arriving engine. Staffing was the victim, a driver and two firefighters.
Engine 2 arrived and reported heavy smoke showing from the rear of the structure. The captain immediately assumed Command and requested a second alarm. The captain advised the regional communication center (RCC) the company was going to make entry into Side Alpha with a 1¾-inch hoseline to perform a primary search for a reported trapped civilian occupant.
The captain told the second firefighter to get a ground ladder to the third floor to rescue the trapped civilian occupant. Meanwhile, the driver of Engine 2 was in the process of connecting to a hydrant. The captain and the first firefighter entered the interior stairwell through the front door on Side Alpha and proceeded to the second floor.
A police officer and the second firefighter placed the ground ladder to the third-floor bathroom window on Side Bravo where the trapped civilian was located. The trapped civilian occupant climbed out the window and onto the ground ladder. The police officer notified RCC that the civilian occupant was out of the building. This message was delayed getting to the captain of Engine 2 because the information was transmitted on a police channel.
Engine 2 was operating on the third floor when the message was transmitted on the fire channel. A decision was made to leave the hoseline on the second floor and search the third floor. The captain and the first firefighter were unable to make entry into a third-floor apartment due to the fire. The captain made the decision to back out of the structure. Their exit was blocked by heavy fire traveling up the central stairway. They were forced to search for another exit.
The crew made their way toward the back of the structure in the center hallway and into the fire apartment. The captain reportedly threw himself on top of the firefighter as conditions deteriorated. The captain called a Mayday, which was not acknowledged by any resources on the fireground or by RCC.
Engine 4 from a mutual aid company arrived. The lieutenant recognized that the captain and firefighter from Engine 2 were missing and called Command and initiated a Mayday. As additional companies arrived on the scene, a rapid intervention group was assigned to locate the Engine 2 crew. The Engine 2 firefighter was able to make his way out onto the porch on Side Charlie and called for help to the crews on the ground,
The USFA listed Captain Barnes’ cause of death as “Caught or Trapped” and hyperthermia and/or hypoxia. His nature of death is listed as “Unknown.”
- Joel Patrick Barnes. USFA. Updated 9 July 2020. https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/fatalityData/detail?fatalityId=4813
- Questions from a Reader https://data-not-drama.com/2023/03/29/question-from a-reader-13/