Remember the fallen with the
NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program
On August 17, 2000, a 37-year-old male career fire fighter drowned while attempting to rescue a civilian stranded in flood waters. The career fire department was notified of several cars that were stranded due to heavy amounts of rain and subsequent flooding.
A crew was dispatched to the scene at approximately 1700 hours to assist motorists stranded by the flood waters. After the crew determined that there were no civilians in the cars, they waited until the police arrived to take over scene control.
While two fire fighters (Fire Fighter #1 and the victim) were waiting for the police to arrive, they were verbally summoned by a civilian bystander to help a female civilian stranded in the water. The civilian was observed holding onto a pole in a pool of water that appeared to be about 3 feet deep.
Due to the flooding conditions it was not obvious to the fire fighters that she was standing at the top edge of a culvert approximately 10 feet deep.
Both of the fire fighters responded to the location of the female civilian and attempted a rescue. Fire Fighter #1 was the first to enter the water, and he was quickly pulled under by the undertow.
The victim entered the water to aid Fire Fighter #1 to safety, then reentered the water to retrieve the civilian. While doing so, the victim was pulled under the water, into the culvert, and through a large-diameter pipe.
For several hours, Fire Fighter #1 and other crews made numerous attempts to rescue and recover the victim.
At approximately 2245 hours, the victim was found several blocks from the original location of the attempted rescue. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:
- ensure that a proper scene size-up is conducted before performing any rescue operations, and applicable information is relayed to the officer in charge
- ensure that all rescue personnel are provided and wear appropriate personal protective equipment when operating at a water incident
- ensure that fire fighters who could potentially perform a water rescue are trained and utilize the “Reach, Throw, Row and Go” technique
- develop site surveys for existing water hazards
- ensure standard operating procedures (SOPs) are developed and utilized when water rescues are performed
- ensure that when using self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs), manufacturer’s guidelines are followed
- municipalities should identify flood-related hazards and take steps to correct them as soon as possible in order to minimize potential for injury.