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NIOSH: Firefighters neglected collapse risk in Calif. close call

An overhang collapsed and trapped a firefighter in San Francisco, leaving him with burns and a broken leg


An adjacent building with similar bowstring roof construction is used for a NIOSH diagram.

By Ken Robinson
FireRescue1 Associate Editor

SAN FRANCISCO — Firefighters should have identified hazardous building construction before an overhang collapsed and injured a firefighter, according to investigators.

The firefighter suffered burns and a broken leg in the incident at a San Francisco warehouse on May 21 last year.

Following department procedures, first arriving companies went into a “fast attack” mode and had difficulty gaining entry to the secured warehouse, according to a NIOSH report released Monday.

The deputy chief arrived on scene nine minutes after the initial crew and made the decision for a defensive attack, but the command was not relayed over the radio or verified with all crews.

Twenty minutes after arrival, an overhang collapsed and trapped the nozzleman operating a 2½-inch handline just outside the structure.

As a result of the close call, investigators say departments should have policies in place to establish and monitor collapse zones when there is a potential for structural collapse.

“The collapse zone area should be equal to the height of the building plus an additional allowance for debris scatter and at a minimum should be at least 1½ times the height of the building,” the report said.

“In this incident, the structure was estimated to be 20 feet high at the top of the parapet wall so the collapse zone should have extended at least 30 feet from the structure.”

Firefighters also need to be able to identify the signs of a possible impending collapse, according to NIOSH.

“In this incident, the presence of the bowstring truss roof, the overhanging roof at the front of the structure, and full fire involvement should have been indicators of a collapse hazard.”

To reduce the risk of a similar incident, NIOSH recommends fire departments also:

  • Ensure that they have consistent policies and training on an incident management system
  • Develop, implement and enforce written standard operating procedures (SOPs) that identify incident management training standards and requirements for members expected to serve in command roles
  • Ensure that the incident commander conducts an initial size-up and risk assessment of the incident scene before beginning firefighting operations
  • Ensure that the first due company officer establishes a stationary command post, maintains the role of director of fireground operations, and does not become involved in firefighting efforts
  • Implement and enforce written standard operating procedures (SOPs) that define a defensive strategy
  • Ensure that policies are followed to establish and monitor a collapse zone when conditions indicate the potential for structural collapse
  • Train all firefighting personnel on building construction and the risks and hazards related to structural collapse
  • Conduct pre-incident planning inspections of buildings within their jurisdictions to facilitate development of safe fireground strategies and tactics