NIOSH Releases Report on Safety Officer’s Sudden Death Following Training

NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention program recently released a report on the death of a Montana fire safety officer following training in 2014. Although the member, Douglas James Casson of the Vaughn Rural Volunteer Fire Department, was reportedly not involved in active firefighting, the report recommended that departments conduct medical evaluations for all members.

On August 5, 2014, a 46-year-old male volunteer safety officer/instructor (“SO/I”) conducted two hours of apparatus equipment training for members of his volunteer fire department. After returning home,the SO/I fell asleep in a living room chair at about 2200 hours. When his spouse awakened at 0800 hours, she found the SO/I unresponsive in the same chair. 911 was called and an ambulance responded. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) noted obvious signs of death and contacted the county coroner, who pronounced the SO/I dead at the scene. The death certificate, completed by the county deputy coroner, listed “multi-drug toxicity” as the cause of death. No autopsy was performed. At the time of his death the SO/I was taking 13 prescription medications, most of which were prescribed for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to his military deployments in Iraq and Kuwait. Although the SO/I did not participate in fire suppression duties, as a volunteer SO/I he responded to fire emergencies. As a result, the SO/I should have received annual medical evaluations to determine his medical fitness for duty.

Key Recommendations

  • Provide preplacement and annual medical evaluations to all firefighters in accordance with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments
  • Ensure that firefighters are cleared for duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of fire fighting, the personal protective equipment used by firefighters, and the components of NFPA 1582.

The following recommendations address general safety and health issues:

  • Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for firefighters.
  • Provide firefighters with medical clearance to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) as part of the fire department’s medical evaluation program
  • Conduct annual respirator fit testing
  • Perform an autopsy on all on-duty firefighter fatalities.

Download it at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201514.html