NIOSH report: NC firefighter died after running out of air
A recently published report said Richard Sheltra’s 2016 death was caused by a lack of oxygen while fighting a strip mall fire
By FireRescue1 Staff
WASHINGTON — A recent NIOSH report on a North Carolina firefighter’s 2016 line of duty death found that the firefighter died due to a lack of oxygen while battling a blaze at a strip mall.
According to the report, firefighter Richard Sheltra, 20, was helping extinguish the blaze when he became disoriented after running out of air. The crew consisted of a senior captain, lieutenant and two firefighters who stretched a pre-connected crosslay into the retail store.
After dousing the fire, Sheltra’s colleague ran out of air and gave him the nozzle before following the hoseline out of the building.
Sheltra then ran out of air himself and told the captain he needed to go outside. He became disoriented when trying to exit and returned to the hoseline near the nozzle where the lieutenant and captain attempted to calm him.
He then broke away and disappeared into the smoke just as the lieutenant told the captain he would take the firefighter outside.
As the lieutenant made his way out, he heard Sheltra yelling for help and found him briefly after struggling through display racks. Sheltra told him he was completely out of air, but disappeared again.
The lieutenant then activated his PASS device and was helped outside by another crew.
A mayday was transmitted for the missing firefighter before he was located around two minutes later and transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The lieutenant was also transported to the hospital and released later that day.
Contributing factors the report highlighted were:
- Lack of crew integrity
- Inadequate air management training
- Inexperienced firefighter
- Ineffective fireground communications
- Failure to call a mayday in a timely manner
- No sprinkler system in commercial structure
- Zero-visibility conditions in smoke-filled retail store
- Restricted mobility due to arrangement of floor displays
NIOSH recommended the following:
- Fire departments should ensure that crew integrity is properly maintained by sight, voice or radio contact when operating in an immediately-dangerous-to-life-or-health atmosphere.
- Fire departments should ensure all firefighters are trained on and actively practice air management principles.
- State, local and municipal governments, building owners, and authorities having jurisdiction should consider requiring the use of sprinkler systems in commercial structures.
- Fire departments should train company officers and firefighters to report interior conditions to the incident commander as soon as possible and on a regular basis.
- Dispatch centers should provide timeframe benchmarks to Incident Command on a regular basis.
- Fire departments should ensure that firefighters are trained and proficient on following hoselines outside as a means for egress and self-rescue.