Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighting

Dunn’s Dispatch: Caught and Trapped

By Vincent Dunn

A 10-year study conducted by the National Fire Protection Association of firefighter deaths inside burning structures found firefighters are caught and trapped by collapse, flame spread, superheated smoke ,or disorientation (a loss of direction because of loss of vision).

In New York City, the following firefighters died when caught and trapped by smoke and fire heat and collapse: In 1994, at two separate incidents, two captains and two firefighters, were caught and trapped on the floor above a fire by flame spread up a stairway; In 1995, two firefighters were caught and trapped by fire inside burning buildings–one trapped by window gates, the other disoriented in a smoke-filled hallway; In 1996, a firefighter was caught and trapped by fire and smoke in a dead-end hallway; In 1998, two fire officers were killed by products of combustion after being caught and trapped in a floor that collapsed into a fire below; In 1999, an officer and two firefighters were overcome by superheated smoke when caught and trapped in a high-rise hallway; In 2001 one firefighter was caught and trapped in a cellar and two other firefighters killed by an explosion and collapse in a hardware store; In 2005, two firefighters died and four were seriously injured when caught and trapped on the floor above by fire and forced to jump four stories; In 2006, an officer and firefighter succumbed to products of combustion after being caught and trapped when a floor collapsed.

The increase in the number of firefighter dying when “caught and trapped” is not limited to New York City. It is a national trend. No one knows for sure why firefighter deaths from being caught and trapped are increasing, but there are several theories. For more information on this subject, go to

Deputy Chief Dunn (Ret., Fire Department of New York) is the author of a number of textbooks, including the new Strategy of Firefighting (Fire Engineering, 2007), Collapse of Burning Buildings (Fire Engineering, 1988), Safety and Survival on the Fireground (Fire Engineering, 1992), and Command and Control of Fires and Emergencies (Fire Engineering, 1999).