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Uncoordinated ventilation cited in Ill. floor collapse LODD


NIOSH image
View of the structure upon firefighters’ arrival.

By Ken Robinson
FireRescue1 Staff

FAIRBURY, Ill. — Crews operating on the floor above a fire that had been burning for a significant duration and uncoordinated ventilation operations were key factors in the floor collapse that killed an Illinois firefighter, according to investigators.

Firefighter Brian Munz, of the Fairbury Fire Department, fell through the first floor in a residential basement fire while conducting ventilation on July 22 last year, the NIOSH fatality report released Wednesday says.

Firefighters had been on scene approximately 30 minutes when a crew was sent into the basement to attack the fire.

While the crew was in the basement, a four-member mutual aid interior crew entered the first floor to horizontally ventilate the structure by opening windows.

As the ventilation crew crawled across the first floor to egress, several members of the crew verbally reported to each other that the floor was spongy just moments before it collapsed, sending the last member of the crew, Firefighter Munz, into the basement.

In addition to knocking down the basement crew and firefighters just outside the door, the force of the collapse sent fire and heavy smoke throughout the house, making it difficult to locate Firefighter Munz, according to the report.

After placing hose lines in the area and using ladders to gain entry, firefighters were able to locate Firefighter Munz, but he was unresponsive to CPR and later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Three key contributing factors that led to the LODD listed in the report are:
• A crew operating on the floor above a fire that had been burning for more than the 30 minutes that fire fighters were on scene
• Characteristics of the structure that inhibited early efforts to ventilate the structure
• Subsequent ventilation efforts that were not coordinated with interior operations

The importance of communication and coordination of fireground activities was highlighted in the findings, which state “firefighters performing ventilation tasks should be in communication with the firefighters attacking the fire or entering the structure to coordinate their efforts in communication and coordination with command.”

The NIOSH report stresses the importance of standard operating procedures for basement fires after pointing out that the fire department did not have such guidelines in place.

“Basement fires present a complex set of circumstances, and it is important that SOPs are developed and followed to minimize the risk of serious injury to firefighters,” the report says.

Incident commanders should conduct a 360 degree size-up with a risk-versus-gain analysis both during and prior to committing interior operations, the report also recommends.

“In this incident, elements that may have prompted the use of alternative tactics were that the residents were out of the structure, smoke was showing at basement windows upon the fire department’s arrival, smoke was a foot off the basement floor, heat at 5 to 6 feet, with conditions deteriorating during each basement entry, and the age of structure,” the report says.

Additionally, the report also suggests interior crews be equipped with thermal imaging cameras and fire departments have rapid intervention teams staged and ready for rescue efforts.