NIOSH Releases Report Covering the Death of a Houston Fire Captain

Washington, D.C. - The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released its report on the Oct. 13, 2001 death of Houston firefighter Jay Jahnke. The report makes several recommendations to fire departments to minimize the risk of similar occurrences.

On October 13, 2001, a 40-year-old Captain (the victim) died and another Captain was injured while fighting a fifth floor high-rise apartment fire. At 0448 hours, units were dispatched to a fire alarm. Units arrived on the scene at 0453 hours and reported heavy fire showing from the exterior of the building. Crews made immediate entry and attack, but after running low on air the victim and the other Captain decided to exit. In the process, the victim apparently became disoriented and lost, whereas the other Captain was able to escape. Rescue crews were sent to the fifth floor where the victim was located in the elevator common area. The victim was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead at 0615 hours.

NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:

  • Ensure that the fire department's high-rise Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are followed and refresher training is provided;
  • Ensure that team continuity is maintained;
  • Ensure that personnel are in position to maintain an offensive attack;
  • Ensure that a lifeline is in place to guide fire fighters to an emergency stairwell;
  • Instruct and train fire fighters on initiating emergency traffic (Mayday-Mayday) when they become lost, disoriented, or trapped;
  • Ensure that a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) is established and in position;
  • Ensure that a backup line is manned and in position to protect exit routes;
  • Ensure that the Incident Commander (IC) continuously evaluates the present weather conditions (i.e., high winds) during high-rise fire operations;
  • Establish and enforce standard operating procedures on the use of thermal imaging cameras for search-and-rescue operations; and
  • The authority having jurisdiction shall ensure that the receipt and processing of alarms is completed in a timely manner

The complete NIOSH report can be found on NIOSH's Web site at

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