Editor’s Note: Read Dave Smiley Jr.’s response to the news story below.
The Delaware State Fire School has released an investigative report on a house fire in March of 2019 that seriously injured a volunteer firefighter. The report highlights several problems and errors of that incident from staffing, to improper PPE use, to ignoring face to face commands on the fireground.
Director Robert Newman, at the request of Mill Creek Fire Company Fire Chief Joe Stewart, assembled a group to review the incident. The report is composed of findings based on interviews of those involved, the findings from the Delaware State Fire Marshall’s Office, news reports of the incident, photos and videos from the scene, and current policies from the organizations involved.
At a little after 8:30 a.m. on March 14, 2019 New Castle County Public Safety Communications dispatched a first alarm assignment for a house fire. This assignment consisted of four engines, two ladders and a rescue company.
During the fire, Minquas Fire Company captain Dave Smiley, Jr. fell through the second floor and became stuck. A mayday was transmitted as firefighters near Smiley worked to free him. As firefighters worked to free him and keep fire off him, Smiley’s helmet, facepiece, SCBA, and coat came off.
Once freed Smiley was transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in critical condition. He sustained second- and third-degree burns to approximately 10% of his body.
The observations in the 87-page report cover several areas from staffing to operations. Among them are:
- Closest Station Failed to Respond (page 12)
Does not indicate if this station, a sub-station, was staffed prior to the fire.
- Rural Water Supply Operations (page 13)
Highlights initial water supply decision making and first-due engine’s actions.
- Incomplete Size-Up (page15)
Highlights no complete size-up reported and no report of fire on the first floor.
- Side Designation Confusion (page 15)
Confusion of the Alpha side due to where the IC was and where the first engine was.
- Command Vehicles Not Utilized (page 15)
Some chief officers parked away from the scene; some parked on the front lawn. Highlights task saturation as noted by one chief officer. Later notes have a chief officer raising a ground ladder and moving a hoseline.
- Lack of Tactical Supervision (page 16)
Three officers on the second floor, neither designated as a supervisor.
- Mayday Communication (page 18)
Several verbal and radio transmissions were made and received. “Who, What, Where” was not used when the mayday was transmitted.
- Rescue Effort (page 19)
It took between four and six firefighters to remove the downed firefighter from the hole. Eight minutes and 27 seconds passed from the time of the downed firefighter’s arrival on scene to his removal from the structure (page 84)
- Non-Compliant Gear (page 20)
Helmets not meeting current standards; the downed firefighter’s missing a chin strap. The downed firefighter, and several others, seen not wearing the SCBA waist strap. Ride-alongs and part-time firefighters wearing other PPE.
- Willful Disregard of Orders (page 21)
Reports of individuals who remained inside the fire building despite the radio order to evacuate during a change in tactics; reports of disregarding face-to-face order to withdraw.
The report goes on to identify other points of trouble. Several recommendations based on the observations and existing polices are also listed.
Firefighter Dave Smiley with Minquas Fire Company recounts the events that led to him being trapped inside a burning home in Mill Creek. Delaware News Journal
A policy on incident command and an incident commander’s checklist are included in the report. Also included are guidelines for building side designations, a sample progress report, and assignments for apparatus on structure fires. The state’s mayday policy is also included.
Radio transcripts and post-fire photos, including Smiley Jr’s PPE are presented as well.
Read the Report
Incident Review 3200 Mill Creek Road