Report Examines MD Firefighter's Death During Search

Report Examines MD Firefighter's Death During Search

A recently released federal report examines the circumstances that led to the death of a volunteer firefighter during a dynamic fire event at a structure fire in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released the report Monday as part of their Firefighter Fatality Investigation program. It described the death of Lutherville (MD) Volunteer Fire Company Firefighter Mark Falkenhan, a 43-year-old father of two, who became trapped by a flashover while conducting a search of a burning building last January.

Falkenhan and another firefighter were conducting a search of a third-floor apartment above the fire, which had started on the first floor. Conditions at the time of entry for the search crew indicated that the fire was under control. The fire had already breached the second-floor apartment through a sliding glass door in the rear of the structure but was oxygen-limited. Another crew was initiating a civilian rescue from the second-floor apartment above the fire when a rapid fire build-up occurred on the second floor. The fire and smoke traveled up the common stairwell, igniting the third-floor apartment and trapping the victim. The victim radioed multiple Mayday calls, but crews were unable to reach him before his facepiece melted from the extensive heat produced by the rapid fire progression. Falkenhan's partner escaped through a window.

The report listed the following contributing factors regarding the line-of-duty death:

  • Incident Management System
  • Personnel Accountability System
  • Rapid Intervention Crews
  • Conducting a search without a means of egress protected by a hoseline
  • Tactical consideration for coordinating advancing hoselines from opposite directions
  • Building safety features, e.g., no sprinkler systems, modifications limiting automatic door closing
  • Occupant behavior: leaving sliding glass door open
  • Ineffective ventilation

The report goes on to make these recommendations:

  • Ensure the first-due arriving officer maintains the role of Incident Commander or transfers "Command" to the next arriving officer
  • Ensure that a first-due company officer establishes command, maintains the role of director of fireground operations, does not become involved in firefighting operations, and ensures incident command is effectively transferred
  • Fire departments should ensure that a separate Incident Safety Officer, independent from the Incident Commander, is appointed at each structure fire
  • Ensure firefighters are trained in the procedures of searching above the fire and are protected by a hoseline
  • Ensure that interior search crews' means of egress are protected by a staffed hoseline
    Ensure that a rapid intervention team or crew is established and available to immediately respond to emergency rescue incidents.

View the entire report at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201102.html.

NIOSH firefighter fatality reports can provide important details on what went wrong at deadly incidents. More of these reports can be accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/.

For more details on this specific incident, consider Firefighter Dies After 4-Alarm MD Fire Flashes Over, Report and Audio Released on January 2011 MD LODD, and Fallen MD Firefighter Mark Falkenhan Added to Wall of Honor at Ceremony.

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