NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation: Texas Lieutenant Falls through Roof

The NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program have released the line of duty death report of a Texas career lieutenant who died after falling through a roof in August 2011.

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Career Lieutenant Dies After Being Trapped in the Attic

Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office: Investigation No. FY 11-07

On August 14, 2011, a 41-year-old career lieutenant died after falling through a roof and being trapped in an attic. The lieutenant was part of a two-man crew attempting to perform vertical ventilation of a two story multi-family apartment complex.

The fire department had responded to multiple fires over the years at this apartment complex. The roof decking material was over 30 years old and would not meet the current building code. The fire on the first floor was quickly brought under control but had spread into the attic along the exterior wall and through the eaves. The fire had compromised the structural integrity of the roof decking material prior to the crew operating on the roof.

When the lieutenant crossed over the peak of the roof to ventilate above the fire, he fell through the weakened roof and into the attic. His legs went through the ceiling of the second floor apartment while his body remained in the attic.

He was wearing his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) but was not wearing his facepiece and was overcome by the products of combustion. He was rescued by crews operating at the scene and transported to a local hospital where he died from his injuries.

Contributing Factors:

  • Hazard assessment/recognition
  • Structural roof component-damage from previous fire
  • PPE use
  • Non-sprinkled building.

Key Recommendations:

  • ensure that the incident commander conducts an initial size-up and risk assessment of the incident scene as outlined in NFPA 1500 before beginning fire fighting operations and continually evaluates the conditions to determine if operations should become defensive
  • ensure that the incident commander establishes a command post, maintains the role of director of fireground operations, does not pass command to an officer not on scene, and does not become involved in fire-fighting operations
  • enforce existing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for structural fire fighting, including the use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) while conducting roof ventilation operations
  • ensure that a rapid intervention team (RIT) is established and available to immediately respond to emergency rescue incidents

Additionally, municipalities, building code officials, and authorities having jurisdiction should:

  • develop a questionnaire or checklist to obtain building information so that the information is readily available to central dispatch if an incident is reported at the noted address
  • consider requiring apartment complexes and associated multiple-family dwellings that have been “retrofitted” into current structural building code requirements also be brought up to current codes for such things as sprinkler systems and adequate structural roof members when requests for permits are made.