NIOSH LODD Report: One Firefighter Dead, Another Burned at Texas Grass Fire

NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program
NIOSH LODD Report: One Firefighter Dead, Another Burned at Texas Grass Fire
The position on Grass 5-1 that the fire fighter (Fire Fighter “A”) was riding on when he fell off and was overrun by the fire. (NIOSH photo)

On March 10, 2018, a 68-year-old male volunteer fire fighter was burned during firefighting operations at a grass fire. The fire fighter was transported from the scene to an Army Medical Center via air ambulance. The fire fighter died on March 23, 2018 from burn injuries sustained at the grass fire. 

Read the Report:
One Fire Fighter Dies and One Fire Fighter Burned during Firefighting Operations at a Grass Fire

At 1103 hours on March 10, a citizen called the county 9-1-1 center to report a controlled burn that had grown into a grass fire was spreading. The county 9-1-1 center dispatched Station 5 at 1105 hours to a report of a grass fire. When the call was dispatched, a fire fighter (Fire Fighter “A”) was in his privately owned vehicle (POV) and responded to Station 5. He was wearing jeans, a tee shirt, and tennis shoes. Fire Fighter “A” did not have his turnout gear or brush gear, which were at home. He responded in Grass 5-1 with another fire fighter, who was the driver/operator of Grass 5-1. 

Grass 5-1 arrived on scene at 1112 hours. The driver/operator requested additional resources from Fire Station 5 and mutual aid from county Fire Station 2. Another fire fighter (Fire Fighter “B”) from Station 5 responded in his POV to the scene. He arrived and parked behind Grass 5-1. Fire Fighter “B” parked his POV along a fence line and got onto Grass 5-1. He was not wearing turnout gear or brush gear, only civilian clothing similar to the other fire fighter. 

Both fire fighters were riding in a standing position behind the cab on either side of the water tank on Grass 5-1. This area is secured by a locking gate. Grass 5-1 was attempting to extinguish the fire in the tree line and fence line while moving north. Grass 5-1 was attacking the fire from the black (burned grass). A bulldozer was operating north of Grass 5-1. 

The wind suddenly shifted to the northwest, which was blowing smoke on Grass 5-1. The fire moved into the grass (Blue Stem Grass and Dallas Grass) that was not burned. As Grass 5-1 was moving, the two fire fighters riding in the back shouted for the driver/operator to stop Grass 5-1. The reel line hose was dragging behind Grass 5-1. 

Fire Fighter “A” gathered the hose and put the hose over his shoulder. He got back on Grass 5-1 but didn’t latch the gate. Either the weight of the hose or the hose snagging caused Fire Fighter “A” to fall off Grass 5-1. Grass 5-1 moved about 15 yards when Fire Fighter “B” shouted to stop. Fire Fighter “A” had stepped into a hole, fell, and could not get up before he was overrun by the fire. 

The driver/operator of Grass 5-1 turned the apparatus around and went back to Fire Fighter “A”. Fire Fighter “B” and the driver/ operator got Fire Fighter “A” into the cab of Grass 5-1. They transported Fire fighter “A” to the Command Post and medical treatment was started on Fire Fighter “A”. 

A county medic unit, Medic 2 arrived and started patient care on Fire Fighter “A” and requested the response from an air ambulance. Fire Fighter “A” was transported by air ambulance to an Army Medical Center in a Texas metropolitan city. 

Fire Fighter “A” died on March 23, 2018 from the burn injuries sustained at this incident.

Fire Fighter “B” was treated on scene for burns to his right elbow and right ear. He was also treated and released at the emergency room at a local hospital for these burns.

Contributing Factors:

  • Lack of personal protective equipment
  • Apparatus design
  • Lack of scene size-up
  • Lack of situational awareness
  • Lack of training for grass/brush fires
  • Lack of safety zone and escape route
  • Radio communications issues due to incident location

Key Recommendations:

  • Fire departments should ensure fire fighters who engage in wildland firefighting wear personal protective equipment that meets NFPA 1977, Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Firefighting
  • Fire departments should comply with the requirements of NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program for members riding on fire apparatus

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