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Firefighter Safety Report: Truss System Failures

NIOSH | John Howard M.D.

Case 4

On March 7, 2002, a 28-year-old male volunteer fire fighter (Victim 1) and a 41-year-old male career fire fighter (Victim 2) died after becoming trapped in the basement by a floor collapse in a residential fire. The victims were attempting to advance a hose line on the first floor of the structure.

The roof and floor systems both consisted of lightweight, pre-engineered wooden trusses covered with plywood sheeting. The incident commander directed a crew of two fire fighters to take a hose line through the garage down the stairs toward the fire.

They were unable to reach the basement because of heavy fire coming from the stairway. They were attempting to check the interior of the house through a second door leading from the garage when the nozzleman’s low-air alarm sounded.

They exited from the garage to exchange their air cylinders. Victim 1 and Victim 2 entered the house through the door inside the garage to relieve the initial attack crew on the hose line. The captain from the mutual aid department followed the hose line through the garage to the doorway to assist his crew.

Soon after the two victims entered the house, the floor collapsed, drop ping them into the basement. The captain encountered intense heat at the doorway but could not see any flames. He was unaware the floor had collapsed but heard Victim 2 yelling for help.

As the captain attempted to lift Victim 2 out of the basement, the victim grabbed and ripped the captain’s self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) mask from his face. The captain was forced to exit from the garage and was later transported to a local hospital.

Two other fire fighters attempted to remove Victim 2, but they were overcome by intense flames shooting from the basement, which eliminated further rescue attempts. The area of entrapment was inaccessible because of the floor collapse. Rescue crews finally breached the masonry foundation wall and recovered both victims.

The area of the floor collapse was directly above the origin of the fire [NIOSH 2002].

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