NIOSH Recommends Safety Improvements After Death of Firefighter

Fire investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have recommended training, communication, and other improvements to a Maryland fire department after the recent death of a shift safety officer.

After a fire on November 12, 2014, a 62-year-old shift safety officer fell through a hole in a floor to the basement of an abandoned row house he was inspecting. Although some firefighters had noticed the hole, they did not report it. No one knew the safety officer was inside the building, and he died of smoke inhalation, rather than from injuries related to the fall.

Based on the investigation, NIOSH recommended changes in several areas, including training and communication:

  • Requiring all firefighters to check in and check out with a designated worker or accountability officer.
  • Ensuring accountability for all firefighters before leaving the scene of a fire.
  • Teaching firefighters to observe and report any dangerous situations.
  • Teaching firefighters to report when they complete, or cannot complete, a task.

NIOSH independently investigates select firefighter deaths under its Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. This investigation involved meeting with representatives from the fire department and the Maryland Department of Labor, and photographing and measuring the row house. Investigators inspected the fire fighter’s personal protective equipment and clothing, and they sent his breathing apparatus, fire helmet, and radio to a NIOSH lab for further evaluation.

They also studied the fire department’s training records and interviewed about 50 of the fire responders.

To read the recently published report and the complete list of recommendations, go to Shift Safety Officer Falls Through Hole in Floor Into Basement of Vacant Row House and Dies From Smoke Inhalation—Maryland.