NIOSH: Crew integrity highlighted by NY basement LODDs

Firefighters acting without their full crew and accountability problems contributed to the deaths of two Buffalo firefighters, a report found

By Ken Robinson
FireRescue1 Associate Editor

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The importance of maintaining crew integrity all times on the fireground has been highlighted in a NIOSH report into the deaths of two Buffalo, N.Y., firefighters.

Lt. Charles "Chip" McCarthy and firefighter Jonathan Croom died in August last year after they fell through the first floor of a deli, into a burning basement.

A Mayday call was issued after Lt. McCarthy was first to fall and firefighter Croom also fell and became trapped while attempting to rescue him.

Rescue crews repeatedly tried to reach the fallen firefighters, but were thwarted by fire and further structural collapses.

During the incident, firefighters lost track of crew members, according to a NIOSH fatality report released Tuesday.

Lt. McCarthy had entered the deli without realizing that two of his crew members were not following behind, investigators said in the report.

"Not verifying your crew is with you and/or working alone increases the risk to individuals and possibly to others during search and rescue efforts," the report said.

Firefighter Croom was assigned to the RIT crew, but "grabbed a tool, went on air, and rushed into the structure" on his own, according to investigators.

"During interviews, the fire department commented on an increase in 'freelancing' following the Mayday," the report said.

The incident also shows the need for accurate personnel accountability reports, as firefighter Croom was twice incorrectly identified as accounted for, the report said.

While investigators could not determine the exact reason the firefighters were found with their respective SCBA removed, one theory the report offered was that Lt. McCarthy may have momentarily removed his face piece to better call out his Mayday.

Firefighters who were interviewed complained of unintelligible or dropped radio transmissions, but were able to clearly hear the Mayday emanating from the structure.

The report points to recent testing by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) of portable radios that shows "some degradation of radio performance" at elevated temperatures as a possible reason for poor transmissions.

In the research, radios returned to normal function after being removed from the heat, the report said.

NIOSH recommends manufacturers, equipment designers, and researchers should continue to develop and refine durable, easy-to-use radio systems to enhance verbal and radio communication in conjunction with properly worn SCBA.

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