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Rapid response: 6 lessons from Boston’s LODDs

NIOSH’s new report on the 2014 fire that claimed two Boston firefighters holds lessons for every department


What we know: The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts an exhaustive investigation into every firefighter line-of-duty death. This week, NIOSH released its report on the March 16, 2014 fire where Boston Lt. Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy were trapped by rapidly changing fire conditions in an old, multi-family residential building.

What’s significant: Like most LODD fires, the tragedy occurred due to a series of contributing factors. In this case, there were nearly 70 mph winds, delayed fire reporting, open doors on the C and A sides and water-supply problems on the C side.

Take aways: As they often do, the report yielded many things fire departments can do to prevent similar line-of-duty deaths. Here are six that stand out.

1. Understand how wind and flow path influence fire behavior.
The science on this is better known and accepted than it was two years ago. Open doors and high wind were a key factor.

2. Make a complete and continuous size up.
Knowing what was happening on the C side may have changed the initial interior attack tactic.

3. Ensure radio communications are heard.
The slight delays in receiving the mayday and accountability reports didn’t help the situation. This is a tough one to overcome as it involves fluid situations, technology and human instinct to make noise when under stress.

4. Take accountability seriously.
Not having or following a plan to know exactly who is where and doing what puts added risk on the situation. In addition to not knowing when a firefighter needs help, resources may be deployed if firefighters are wrongly presumed missing.

5. Don’t be complacent about PASS alarms.
At one point in this incident several alarms were going off, which made it more difficult to locate the downed firefighters.

6. Understand that commanders have to make hard decisions.
No one envies the Boston commander who ordered the search for the last missing firefighter be suspended. One can speculate how unpopular that call was with those on scene. Yet, he was responsible for the safety of the other firefighters and made the right call.

You can read the full report from the link below. Afterwards, share your takeaways in the comment section below.

Further reading:
The NIOSH report

Research: Thin fire hoses burn through at an alarming rate

Slideshow: 2 Boston firefighters dead battling 9-alarm fire

Boston considers permit changes following LODDs

Rick Markley is the former editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s of fine arts. He has logged more than 15 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at

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