Denver firefighter's death prompts nationwide safety alert

Firefighter John Whelan died last July when he stepped through a translucent roof panel

DENVER —The National Institute of Safety and Health issued a nationwide alert to fire departments across the country following last July's death of Denver firefighter John Whelan.

CBS Denver reported that NIOSH officials advised concerns about translucent corrugated roof panels. On June 28, 2015, Whelan was sent onto the roof of a warehouse following a dumpster fire. In the dark, Whelan, 46, stepped through a translucent roof panel and fell 17 feet. He died July 15.

A nearly identical incident occurred in Denver in 2012 when Lt. Joseph Duran was sent onto a similar roof for what turned out not to be a fire. Duran stepped through a translucent roof panel but caught himself on the skylight. Fellow firefighters pulled him back to safety.

"We want to raise awareness,” Lt. Colonel Corey Butler, with the U.S. Public Health Service, said. "It's very serious, hence the urgency for getting this information out."

NIOSH issued its national bulletin recommending that all fire departments immediately take action to reduce the risk of firefighters being injured or killed while operating on roofs with translucent panels. They recommend all firefighters are trained to recognize the panels and that policies and procedures are established to ensure firefighters do not walk or stand on the panels.

"Incident commanders should strongly consider the risk benefit analysis of permitting rooftop operations on identified buildings. Firefighters may not be aware of and may not fully appreciate the hazards and risks associated with these panels," the NIOSH alert said.

The agency is preparing a full report on the death of firefighter Whelan, which should be released in June.

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