Emergency Services Health and Safety

Probe Sites Fire Death Risks. NIOSH Says Hazards Could Have Been "Minimized' In Blaze That Killed Firefighter
KnoxNews.com (February 25, 2003)

The house fire that raged around the 21-year-old volunteer fireman did not claim his life. Instead, Murray suffocated, his lungs choked by carbon monoxide from the toxic smoke he inhaled as he tried to escape, the report revealed. Murray was the first firefighter to die in the line of duty in the Jefferson City Fire Department's 93-year history. His death left the agency's members shaken, and awakened the tiny community to the risks firefighters face. But were the risks taken in Murray's case too high? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, concluded after an investigation into Murray's death that the risks could have been "minimized." A report on the NIOSH probe identifies 10 problems that heightened the risk of death during the handling of the house fire on Eastern Avenue. Those include:
- Garbled radio transmissions
- The decision to fight the fire from the inside instead of a more "defensive attack"
- The lack of a team approach that would have given Murray a firefighter "buddy" inside the house
- The need for a rescue team to go after a fallen firefighter

How many of those recommendations have been implemented at the Jefferson City Fire Department is not known. Fire Chief Lee Turner, who was severely burned in the fire, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. An assistant chief declined to comment. An official with the countywide E-911 system could not be reached. A Tennessee investigation showed that Murray's death was not the result of any state safety violations. An attorney for Murray's family declined comment.

The NIOSH report reveals the following series of events leading up to Murray's death: The fire was reported at 3:08 p.m. on March 1, 2002. Seven firefighters, including Turner and Murray, responded. Murray, Turner and two other firefighters, one of whom was newly hired, went inside the house in search of occupants. There were none. While two firefighters remained inside, using a hose to try to douse the fire, Murray and Turner left the house long enough to get another water hose and returned for an "interior attack." The incident commander kept watch on the fire's condition from outside the structure. But he also pitched in by helping set up a ventilation fan and breaking out a window for more ventilation.

A second fire engine arrived at 3:17 p.m. Flames continued to grow. Firefighters' "efforts had little effect in knocking down the fire," the report stated. A tank serving one water hose "ran dry," and the hose "lost pressure." "Several minutes passed, and conditions worsened," the report stated. "Fire was now showing from the eaves on all four sides of the residence." At 3:33 p.m., the incident commander "saw fire venting through the roof," the report stated. "Using his radio, he ordered the interior teams to exit the building." A minute passed, but Turner, Murray and two other firefighters remained inside. The commander yelled into his radio, "come out of there now," the report stated. But his radio transmissions were "garbled" and muffled by static. "Central dispatch contacted (the commander) several times, alerting him that his radio transmissions were breaking up and not being fully received," the report stated.

Inside the burning house, one of the firefighter's air tanks began to run out. "As interior conditions deteriorated further, (Chief Turner) made a decision to evacuate the structure," the report stated. Two firefighters made it outside. Turner, struck by burning debris, collapsed at the doorway and was pulled to safety. His hands and arm were severely burned. At 3:35 p.m., firefighters realized Murray was still inside, the report stated.

The NIOSH report suggests that Murray became disoriented as he tried to escape. He knew he was in trouble, activating an alarm on his gear that is supposed to help rescuers find him. The intense heat damaged his facemask, further obstructing his view. At some point, he began breathing in smoke and crumpled onto the floor near the door. By then, the house was ablaze. Eighteen minutes passed before Murray's fellow firefighters were able to douse the flames enough to rescue him. "After two attempts, firefighters grabbed the victim by his (breathing apparatus) straps and dragged him into the front yard," the report stated. The NIOSH report does not indicate whether there was a problem with Murray's breathing apparatus or his air tank supply. A Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health report states that Murray's "air intake was comprised by the removal of the air-pac hose from the face mask from the air supply, allowing the toxic smoke and fumes to enter his breathing zone."

Safety On Our Minds - 3/10/03
Bob Stevens - Safety Officer SRLFD
I've been thinking a lot about response lately so when I saw this month's Firehouse magazine and the article titled Firefighter=Fire Victim as their Close Calls feature, I was reminded just how closely the quality and quantity of our response effects the safety of our response.

The Firefighter=Fire Victim article was written by William Goldfeder, a battalion chief from Ohio, he says, "Fire companies do wonderful with all the new equipment, the beautiful firehouses and all the other items that appear to reflect a "changing" volunteer department, but if it takes your department as long to get a piece of apparatus on the road as it did 10 or 20 years ago, your department isn't meeting the needs of the community - and all your efforts are wasted. Unfortunately, some volunteer fire departments have forgotten what they are there for." Does it take us just as long to get off the floor as it did 10 years ago? Are we getting off with the same number of people (or less)?

Chief Goldfeder's article was prefaced by an account related to him by a member of a large volunteer fire company and the problem they encountered at a fire in a wood-frame apartment complex. The account tells of an engine company captain caught in a flashover and injured as he was doing a search of the apartment unit that was on fire. The volunteer fire department's response was only one of the factors that contributed to the firefighter becoming the victim. Not a very happy thing at all.

The chief does applaud volunteer departments who use a volunteer duty crew system and sees that a just one of the ways to positively effect response. He says, "if you are protecting a suburban or even urban area with volunteer firefighters, the days of the 'first-alarm assignment' coming from home or work - with the inherent delay of three to five minutes or more - should be over."

Is our response putting us at risk? The time it takes, the number of firefighters it takes, the training it takes . . . . Can we be safe if we can't ensure a quality response?

Safety On Our Minds
S.O. Bob Stevens (Shaker Road Loudonville FD)
Winter is a nasty time for firefighting; this is the same phrase that I used to start my last safety message. I was reminded of this again just two days ago when two of our firefighters fell at the same incident. I was one of the two, slipping on the ice, falling down hard and knocking my helmet off. The other person took a nasty spill on the ice while wearing a Scott Pak. Luckily he fell on his side and not his back. In neither case were we injured; well our pride was injured, not our bodies luckily. The ice, the extreme cold, snow banks, and more, all of it conspires against us, makes it harder to do the job safely and effectively. All that you can do sometimes is just be aware that you're a lot more likely to get hurt when there's nasty weather and slow down, dress warmer, watch where you walk . . . you get the idea. On another topic, the most recent issue of Size Up, the NYS Association of Fire Chiefs magazine, had an article about fire scene accountability. A FDNY Battalion Chief wrote the article and while the specific tactics employed by individual fire departments may vary, the lessons learned, as he states them, are similar to things that we've learned. I will summarize the findings: Know who your working with Company officers must carry out assigned orders, control firefighters in their company and report hazards to the incident commander The incident commander's span of control must allow for the proper supervision of companies operating at the scene Incident commanders must track and keep updated the assignments of all companies including establishing a command post with proper documentation of assignments on a command board When incidents reach multiple alarm status, fire ground communications must be monitored to control radio traffic FAST teams and other specialized companies should be requested and staged in the vicinity of incident command We're all responsible for accountability, one tag on the riding board, one tag at the door, stay with your company officer, stick to the assigned task, report hazards, if at all possible come out the same way you went in and think safety.
Hey, hey, hey, let's be careful out there!

Vehicle Fires At The Gas Pump

The Petroleum Equipment Institute is working on a campaign to try and make eople aware of fires as a result of "static" (that is, static electricity) at gas pumps. They have researched 150 cases of these fires. The results were very surprising:

Out of 150 cases, almost all of them were women.
2) Almost all cases involved the person getting back in their vehicle while the nozzle was still pumping gas. When finished , they went back to pull the nozzle out. The fire started then as a result of static discharge.
3) Most men never get back in their vehicle until completely finished. This is why they are seldom involved in these types of fires.
4) Most had on rubber-soled shoes.
5) Don't ever use cell phones when pumping gas . (The RF energy from a cell phone (a radio transmitter) can cause a sparking on bare metal, much like aluminum foil in a microwave oven .
6) It is the vapors that come out of the gas that cause the fire, when connected with static discharges.
7) In 29 fires, the vehicle had been reentered and the nozzle was touched during refueling. This occurred in a variety of makes and models. Some resulting in extensive damage to the vehicle, to the station, and to the customer.
8) Seventeen fires occurred before, during or immediately after the gas cap was removed and before fueling began.

NEVER get back into your vehicle while filling it with gas. If you absolutely HAVE to get in your vehicle while the gas is pumping, make sure you get out, close the door TOUCHING THE METAL, before you touch the nozzle. This way the static from your body will be discharged before you ever remove the nozzle. As mentioned earlier, The Petroleum Equipment Institute, along with several other companies now, are really trying to make the public aware of this danger. You can find out more information by going to http://www.pei.org. Once here, click in the center of the screen where it says "Stop Static".

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