Looking Forward to 2009:
10,000 Hours to Master Your Craft

LODD in 2008

In 2008, six firefighters in the United States lost their lives in extreme fire behavior events occurring while they were engaged in interior firefighting operations. In 2008 there was only one multiple fatality line of duty death as the result of extreme fire behavior. Of this six, three were career, two were volunteers, and one was paid on call. They ranged in age from 19 to 54 years of age with an average age of 34.8 years. However, this does not give us the real picture, it is important to look at each of these events.

Firefighter Rick Morris (54, Career), Sedalia, Missouri: Firefighter Morris died April 8, 2008, nine days after being burned in a flashover that occurred while attempting to locate the fire in a small single family dwelling He was survived by his wife and four children.

Firefighter Bret Lovrien (35, Career), Los Angeles, California: Firefighter Lovrien died and Engineer Anthony Guzman was seriously injured March 26, 2008 from traumatic injuries occurring as the result of a smoke explosion while forcing entry into a commercial building to investigate smoke from a fire in a utility vault. Firefighter Lovrien was survived by his brother, parents, stepmother, and grandfather.

Firefighter Justin Monroe (19, Paid On-Call) and Firefighter Victor Isler (40, Career), Salisbury, North Carolina: Firefighters Monroe and Isler died March 7, 2008 of thermal insult and carbon monoxide exposure following rapid fire progress (likely flashover) in a commercial fire. Three other firefighters also suffered burns in this incident. Firefighter Monroe was survived by his parents and brother. Firefighter Isler was survived by his wife and two children.

Lieutenant Nicholas Picozzi (35, Volunteer), Linwood, Pennsylvania: Lieutenant Picozzi died March 5, 2008 as a result of injuries received due to rapid fire progress (likely flashover) while searching for the seat of the fire in the basement of a small single-family dwelling. Assistant Chief Kenny Dawson Jr., Assistant Chief Chris Durbano, and Firefighter Tom Morgan Jr. were injured while attempting to rescue Lieutenant Picozzi. Lieutenant Picozzi was survived by his wife and two children.

Firefighter Brad Holmes (21, Volunteer) , Grove City, Pennsylvania: Firefighter Holmes died three days after he and and Lieutenant Scott King were burned as the result of flashover while conducting primary search on the second floor of a small two-family home on February 29, 2008. Firefighter Holmes is survived by his parents and brother.

Two of these incidents have been documented by an investigative report. NIOSH Report F2008-06 examines the incident in which Firefighter Brad Holmes died. The Post Incident Report on the Salisbury Millwork Fire by the Salisbury Fire Department examines the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Firefighters Justin Monroe and Victor Isler (NIOSH Report F2008-07 is pending). NIOSH is also investigating the deaths of Lieutenant Nick Pilozzi (NOSH F2008-08) and Firefighter Brett Lovrien (NIOSH F2008-11). The status of these reports is listed on the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program Pending Investigations page.

Similarities and Differences

Three of these fatalities occurred in small residential structures. Of these, one occurred on the second floor, one on the first floor, and the other in the basement. Two of these fatalities occurred in an exposure, not initially involved in the fire. Three of these fatalities occurred in commercial occupancies. Two of the fatalities occurred at a major, greater alarm fire. In one of these incidents, firefighters were searching for a trapped occupant, in all other cases; the firefighters were searching for the fire.

It is critical to remember that extreme fire behavior can occur in any type of structure. In some cases, severe fire conditions are evident on arrival, but in others, there is little evidence of a significant fire. The sense of urgency resulting from persons reported, or a rapidly developing fire can result in tunnel vision and reduce focus on key fire behavior indicators (B-SAHF). It is essential to ensure that members have adequate training so that reading the fire is both second nature and a conscious part of their size-up and dynamic risk assessment process.

Are We Making Progress?

This number is considerably lower than the 18 firefighters who died in 2007 where extreme fire behavior was a causal or contributing factor (four events accounted for 15 of the 18 fatalities). Does this reduction indicate that we are doing a better job of recognizing potential for extreme fire behavior and are controlling the fire environment more effectively to reduce risk during offensive operations? Examining not only line of duty deaths, but department incident reports, data submitted to the National Firefighter Near Miss Program and news reports of fire incidents involving extreme fire behavior I have the feeling that this reduction is not completely due to improved safety and operational performance.
There have been a number of incidents over the last year that point to the need for continued efforts in the improvement of fire behavior training. Incidents in Loudoun County, Virginia (see Loudon County Virginia Flashover, Loudoun County Flashover: What Happened, Loudoun County Flashover: Escape from Floor 2, and Flashover & Survival Skills Training); Sacramento, California and Edmonton, Alberta resulted in multiple firefighters being trapped by rapid fire progress while working above the fire. In these incidents, a slight variation in circumstances or any delay in the action of those involved might have resulted in multiple line of duty deaths.

These three incidents do not necessarily make a trend, but examining near miss, injury, and line of duty death data points to lack of or loss of situational awareness as a factor in this type of incident. Situational awareness is inclusive of the ability to recognize key fire behavior indicators, prediction of likely fire development, and recognizing the impact (or lack of impact) of tactical operations on fire progression.

The Way Forward

In an earlier post, Outstanding Performance I discussed the importance of deliberate practice in developing expertise. Numerous studies have identified that world class performance requires 10,000 hours of intensive and deliberate practice. While engaging in deliberate practice several hours a day, every day for ten years might seem a bit excessive to the average firefighter, performance is strongly correlated with an individual’s level of deliberate practice. Hard work pays off!

Regardless of your level of knowledge and skill, I challenge you to increase your efforts to engage in deliberate practice. As a student of your craft it is critical to deepen your knowledge of fire behavior, examine incidents you respond to with a critical eye, and use case studies to gain insight into fire behavior, building construction, and the effect of tactical operations. Engage in safe and effective live fire training to provide an opportunity to apply your knowledge and skill in a realistic context.

CFBT-US is using the following logo to identify training materials and activities that promote deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice

Resolutions

Many people make New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight and exercise more. Given the firefighter fatality statistics related to heart disease and stress, these are important goals. I share these goals with many of you. However, I have a few other professional resolutions for 2009 (and beyond):

  • Continue to be a student of my craft as a fire officer and educator, finding the time to engage in an increased level of deliberate practice.
  • Continue working to reducing firefighter injuries and deaths due to extreme fire behavior by increasing firefighter’s knowledge of practical fire dynamics.
  • Work to improve the quality of NIOSH Firefighter Death in the Line of Duty Reports by continuing to be a critical friend of the program.
  • Work to improve the quality and focus of fire service training curriculum and training materials in the area of fire behavior.
  • Work to ensure that professional qualifications and other consensus standards adequately identify the requisite fire behavior knowledge and skills for safe and effective operation on the fireground.
  • Work to ensure that live fire training instructors have the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct safe and effective training.

I encourage you to join me in this effort. These improvements will not happen overnight, but we can accomplish a great deal if we persist and work together. It is easy to complain and find fault. It is much more difficult to step up and do the right thing to make things better, but that is what is needed.

Thanks for reading the CFBT Blog and best wishes for a safe and happy 2009.

Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFIreE, CFO

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