Arson/Investigation, Firefighting, Health & Safety, Leadership, LODD, Training

LODD Anniversary: California Captain Fatally Shot, Firefighter Wounded at Apartment Fire Investigation

Remains of plastic water jug that contained gasoline to set off explosion in the apartment behind the chair.
(NIOSH/Fire department photo)

Remember the fallen with the
lessons learned

NIOSH Firefighter Fatality investigation and Prevention Program

On June 25, 2018, a 45-year-old career Captain suffered a fatal gunshot wound and another fire fighter suffered a gunshot injury while responding to a fire alarm at a high-rise senior apartment building. Dispatch was notified by an alarm company of a fire alarm activation at 03:44 hours. At approximately 03:45 hours Engine 2, Truck 1 and Battalion Chief 1 were dispatched. Due to reports of an explosion, the incident was upgraded at 03:49 hours and additional apparatus and personnel (Engine 1, Rescue 1, Engine 10, Engine 24, and Hazmat 24) were dispatched.

Read the Report:
Career Captain Fatally Shot and a Fire Fighter Wounded by Arsonist while Responding to a Fire Alarm

Engine 2 was first on scene at 03:51 hours and reported no smoke or fire showing, but 4 minutes later, reported windows that were “blown out” suggesting an explosion. Battalion Chief 1 was in command and radioed dispatch that they had a working High Rise fire resulting in Engine 3 and Battalion Chief 2 also being dispatched to the scene. Engine 2 and Engine 10 were assigned to the 2nd floor where the involved apartment was located (B/C corner of the structure).

Engine 2 did a primary search of the apartment and verified that an explosion occurred and that the building’s sprinkler extinguished the fire. Engine 10 did a secondary search and reported the apartment was clear, but a distinct smell of gasoline pervaded the apartment and hallway.

Engine 10’s Captain was investigating the remaining apartments on the 2nd floor when he came across a resident with burns on his hands sitting in a chair at the end of the side D hallway. The window of the Side D hallway was blown out from the pressure of the explosion, so the Captain leaned out the opening and yelled down to Rescue 1 paramedics that they had a patient on the second floor.

At this point the resident pulled out a revolver and shot the Captain in the torso. The Captain lunged into the Side D stairwell and yelled that he had been shot by an active shooter. Other fire fighters heard the shots.

Thinking there were more explosions, two fire fighters from Engine 10 came running down the hallway only to be met with gunfire.

The lead fire fighter’s self-contained breathing apparatus mask voice amplifier was grazed by a bullet causing the amplifier to impact his torso and the bullet to deflect. The second fire fighter saw the resident with the gun and ran back towards the B-side informing Engine 2 fire fighters of an active shooter.

Engine 10’s Captain collapsed at the bottom of the side D stairwell. Rescue 1 paramedics pulled him out of the building as they began basic life support procedures.

The other wounded fire fighter came running out and was attended to by other fire fighter/EMTs.

Both were transported to the local hospital, but the Engine 10 Captain succumbed to his gunshot injuries.

Contributing Factors:

  • Arsonist/Shooter
  • Unsuspecting fire fighters
  • No advanced indication of an active shooter on scene.

Key Recommendations:

  • Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters maintain situational awareness and when explosions and/or the smell of flammable vapors are reported, proceed with extreme caution.
  • Fire departments should train for ambush scenarios on the fireground.
  • Fire departments should ensure that law enforcement are requested at the time of dispatch for reports of explosions, and in the presence of flammable liquids.
  • Fire departments should develop, establish, and train for rescue task force operations with local law enforcement and operate under a unified command.
  • Fire departments should ensure that Incident Commanders are provided Chief’s Aides/Command Post Support to manage information, communication, and accountability.

In Addition:

  • Municipalities should ensure that dispatchers are trained in active shooter/ambush scenarios.
  • Municipalities should ensure that fire dispatchers have a mobile capability for high stress incidents.