LODD report: Maine fire capt. died saving firefighter trapped in apartment fire
Poor communications and an abandoned hoseline among several factors during a fire in Berwick
By Bill Carey
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program has released the report on the line-of-duty death of a firefighter from Maine on March 1, 2019. The initial report from the United States Fire Administration stated that Captain Joel Patrick Barnes used his body to protect another firefighter trapped by fire.
The report lists seven contributing factors:
- Incomplete size-up and risk assessment
- Lack of incident management
- Lack of personnel accountability
- Inadequate fireground communications
- Rapid fire spread in the interior center stairwell
- Lack of situational awareness
- Lack of fire sprinkler system in a multi-family residential occupancy.
The fire department responded with automatic mutual aid resources for a report of smoke in an apartment building with one occupant trapped. An occupant inside a third-floor apartment bathroom called 911 for help. Engine 2, consisting of the captain, two firefighters, and a driver/operator, arrived and observed heavy smoke coming from the back of the building. The captain of Engine 2 took command immediately and requested a second alarm. He then informed the regional communication center (RCC) that he and a firefighter would enter through Side Alpha with a hoseline to search for the trapped civilian.
The captain instructed the second firefighter to bring a ground ladder to the third floor for the rescue. While the driver connected to a hydrant, the captain and a firefighter entered the interior stairwell through the front door on Side Alpha and proceeded to the second floor.
A police officer and the second firefighter positioned a ground ladder at the bathroom window on Side Bravo, where the civilian was trapped. The civilian climbed out of the window and onto the ladder. The police officer notified RCC that the civilian was safely outside the building however, the captain of Engine 2 did not receive this information promptly because it was transmitted on a police channel.
Engine 2 continued operations on the third floor without knowing the civilian was already rescued. They decided to leave the hoseline on the second floor and proceed with a search on the third floor. They were unable to enter a third-floor apartment due to the fire and the captain decided to retreat from the structure. As they tried to exit, they encountered heavy fire blocking the central stairway, forcing them to find an alternative route. The pair moved towards the back of the building through the center hallway and entered the apartment where the fire originated.
As conditions worsened, the captain shielded the firefighter by throwing himself on top of them. The captain called a Mayday, but no one on the fireground or RCC acknowledged the distress call.