NIOSH: Building collapse LODD shows need for survivability profiling

Report recommends structural hazard and risk assessment training for all fire personnel


NIOSH is stressing the importance of structural hazard and risk management training after a Mass. firefighter was killed in a building collapse.

Jon Davies, 43, of the Worcester Fire Department, was part of a secondary interior search for a reportedly missing resident in a triple-decker home in December last year.

According to the NIOSH report, this second search was conducted 30 minutes after crews had arrived at the scene and 10 minutes after other firefighters had evacuated the building because of "deteriorating conditions" in the home.

Despite possible collapse, the second search was initiated because one of the occupants of the home insisted his friend was still trapped in the rear of the second floor of the building.

After the partial collapse, Firefighter Davies was trapped for 50 minutes. Investigators say the cause of death was "blunt trauma and compression injuries of the neck and torso." It turned out that the civilian's friend was not in the house during the fire.

"The search was focused on an area that crews could not previously reach due to the fire conditions, when the structure was initially evacuated," the report said.

"Since the interior environment was not suitable for fire fighters equipped with personal protective equipment, it is unlikely that a trapped civilian would have been able to survive for that length of time given the fire conditions.

"Risk management practices and occupant survivability profiling would suggest that a secondary search of the area, under the existing conditions, would likely have been a recovery operation."

Communication Issues
A lack of communication between city building and fire departments regarding building hazards was contributing factor to his death, according to the report.

It recommends a clearer line of communication between fire personnel and city authorities to have the necessary information to make informed risk- management decisions. According to the report, the triple-decker home that collapsed had previously been cited for structural deterioration.

"There was no formal process for the building department to notify the fire department … information about structural deficiencies should be considered by fire officers when making operational decisions," investigators said.

NIOSH recommends that fire departments have immediate access to building hazard information through "tele-type" dispatch and other mobile devices.

Investigators also encourage further training in the risks and hazards of structural collapse. Many of the firefighters on the case "commented on how they did not expect the building to collapse the way that it did," despite years of experience fighting fires in similar buildings.

Investigators also urged the department to develop a standard risk-management protocol involving occupant survivability at all structure fires.

According to the report "structure fires are very dynamic and fast paced operations with little room for error, mistakes, or miscalculations of the significance of the risk encountered."

In this case, the structure had been burning for more than half an hour before the victim entered the home to search for the missing civilian.

Investigators point out that it is important to consider how possible occupant survival is for the entire rescue period and to constantly assess the risk involved in search and rescue.

 

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