NIOSH Reports on Rollover, Collapse Deaths

NIOSH Reports on Rollover, Collapse Deaths

The NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program recently issued reports on a New Mexico assistant chief’s death in a tanker rollover (F2003-23) and Pennsylvania lieutenant’s death in residential structure fire collapse (F2002-49). The complete reports are posted online at

On June 26, 2003, in New Mexico, a 46-year-old male volunteer assistant chief was fatally injured after being ejected from a water tanker as a result of a rollover crash.

The apparatus involved in this incident was a surplus 1954 military fuel servicing truck. The victim was traveling to a wildland fire on an unpaved road within a National Forest. The tanker failed to negotiate a curve, rolled over, left the road and rolled several more times down into a canyon.

The victim was ejected from the cab during the rollover and was found lying unresponsive on the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The USFA has reported that very serious overweight situations and accidents have occurred with tankers that were once surplus military vehicles. In the post-crash investigation, the state police reported that the tanker “probably had brake failure prior to the accident” and noted that the master cylinder was leaking brake fluid and the emergency brake was inoperable.

According to the medical investigator’s report, the cause of death was multiple injuries consistent with a rollover crash.

NIOSH recommends that fire departments should:

*Determine a safe operating weight for water tankers based on vehicle characteristics and remove overweight vehicles from service.

*Develop comprehensive apparatus maintenance programs and guidelines that include regularly scheduled inspections, documentation and procedures for removing apparatus from service until major defects are repaired.

*Ensure that all fire apparatus are equipped with seatbelts.

On Nov. 1, 2002, in Pennsylvania, a 36-year-old male volunteer lieutenant died after being crushed by an exterior wall that collapsed during a three-alarm residential structure fire.

The victim was operating a handline near the southwest corner of the fire building where there was an overhanging porch. As the fire progressed, the porch collapsed onto the victim, trapping him under the debris. Efforts were made by nearby firefighters to free him when the entire exterior wall of the structure collapsed outward and he was crushed. The victim was removed from the debris within 10 minutes, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The coroner listed the cause of death as traumatic compressional asphyxia.

NIOSH recommends that fire departments should:

*Ensure that incident command continually evaluates the risk versus gain when deciding a fire attack.

*Ensure that a collapse zone is established, clearly marked and monitored at structure fires where buildings have been identified at risk of collapsing.

*Establish and implement written SOPS regarding emergency operations on the fireground.

*Develop and coordinate preincident plans throughout mutual aid departments.

*Implement joint training on response protocols throughout mutual aid departments.

*Ensure that an incident safety officer, independent from the incident commander, is appointed and on scene early in the fireground operation.

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