Services Health and Safety
Sites Fire Death Risks. NIOSH Says Hazards Could Have Been "Minimized'
In Blaze That Killed Firefighter
(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
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
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
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!
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:
1) 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
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
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
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