Published on November 1, 2018.

Selected Firefighter Injury Incidents From 2017


During firefighter survival week training, a firefighting recruit suffered back and head injuries after falling approximately 10 feet (3 meters) during a training evolution.

The training evolution is known as the “John Nance drill” and named for a firefighter who was killed at a structure fire in 1987 after falling through a burned floor.

The drill teaches firefighters a specific maneuver for below-grade firefighter rescue utilizing ropes to remove a firefighter from a hole in the floor. If a firefighter were to fall through a compromised floor, another firefighter is sent down the hole via rope to locate, assess, and rescue the downed firefighter. After being lowered down into the hole by several firefighters, the rescuer assesses the victim’s air supply, converts the waist strap of his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) into a harness, and uses a handcuff knot to connect the victim to the rope. Once the tasks are complete, the firefighters on the haul team pull the victim out of the hole. The rescuer is then retrieved using the same rope.

On the morning of the training evolution, a group of fire recruits gathered at the department’s new training facility to participate in the daily drills. The recruits were broken into groups, and every recruit would have a chance to be on the haul team, serve as a rescuer, and pose as a victim.

During one of the evolutions, a trainee was assigned to be the rescuer. As she was being lowered down the hole on a rope in a full protective ensemble, she fell, landing on her self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and striking her head on the floor. Instructors requested an ambulance while she was treated by fellow firefighters and on-scene paramedics. She was transported to the nearest trauma facility, evaluated, and released. The department did not provide details on specific injuries or time out of work.


A fire captain suffered a concussion, multiple muscle sprains in his neck and upper back, and a sprained knee after falling backwards down a flight of stairs at a structure fire.

Numerous 911 calls were received reporting a building fire with the possibility of an occupant trapped on the second floor. The fire department arrived within three minutes and encountered a fire in a small wood-frame, two-family home. The fire had self-vented out numerous windows on the second floor and involved two rooms. During initial operations, the first-arriving companies, staffed with 14 members, began an aggressive interior attack on the fire. The engine company stretched a hose line up the front stairs while the ladder company began roof operations. Two members of the heavy rescue followed the engine company up the front stairs to assist with forcible entry and to search the fire floor. The captain of the heavy rescue and his partner tried to get more information on the status of the occupants. A police officer and a family member informed firefighters that an elderly man was possibly still on the second floor.

The captain and a firefighter went to the back of the home because of congestion on the narrow front stairwell. They ascended the rear stairs to the second floor, which led to the same landing as the front stairs. The captain met the engine company at the top of the stairs on a narrow hallway in zero visibility and high heat.

As the three members of the engine company were working their way into the apartment, the captain tried to find a way around the engine company to search the apartment. There were now six firefighters on the landing, and the captain ordered his partner to stand at the bottom of the stairs to ensure that another hand line was not brought up until the first line could get into the apartment. The captain’s partner descended the rear stairs and spoke with the officer of an engine company at the bottom of the stairs. The captain tried to stand up while taking a step backwards, not realizing how close he was to the stairs. He fell down the steep stairs headfirst, landing on his SCBA cylinder.

His partner and firefighters from the engine company at the bottom of the rear stairs assisted him to the back yard, where he was treated by an on-scene advanced life support ambulance. The rapid intervention team (RIT) was activated and met the captain in the back yard to assist with treatment and packaging into the ambulance.

The 46-year-old captain returned to light duty a month after the fire. He eventually returned to full duty a month later. He was wearing a full protective ensemble and using his SCBA. His PASS device did not go into full alarm while he was in the structure because crews were able to get him out of the stairway and into the back yard quickly.

The occupant who was reportedly trapped was at a relative’s house at the time of the fire.


A senior firefighter suffered severe injuries after an apparatus crash while performing apparatus checks.

The firefighter was driving a ladder truck to ensure that the apparatus was in top working condition. While he was traveling behind a tractor trailer, a large tree fell across the road, blocking the travel lane. The tractor trailer struck the fallen tree, stopping abruptly. The apparatus operator veered to the right, striking the right rear of the trailer with the driver’s side of the ladder truck, tearing the driver’s door off. The ladder truck continued down an embankment, rolling into a large culvert on the side of the road where it came to a stop.

The ladder truck suffered severe damage, trapping the driver with his legs pinned under the dashboard. Fellow firefighters responded to the crash, and used the jaws of life to perform a dash lift to free the victim’s leg from the wreckage. It is unknown if he was wearing a seatbelt. The firefighter was transported to the hospital and treated for severe extremity injuries. There were no other injuries from the crash.

The victim has returned to full firefighting activities. The fire apparatus was destroyed. The department is in the process of replacing it.


An assistant chief was treated for exhaustion after escaping a structure fire.

A mutual aid engine company responded to an adjacent district for a working fire. Upon arriving on scene, the incident commander assigned two members of the engine company, an assistant chief and a firefighter, to assist crews at the rear of the building. They reported to the rear and met with crews exiting the building, with whom they discussed objectives and began operations.

The two advanced a handline to the third floor. On the third-floor landing, the assistant chief used his thermal imaging camera to scan the area. He and the firefighter began advancing into the third floor and knocking down flames in the first room they came to. The assistant chief advanced with flames above his head, and took the handline from the firefighter. The assistant chief communicated to the incident commander the need for a second handline and increased vertical ventilation. The firefighter began pulling ceilings to open up the area to extinguish flames above their heads. Conditions began to rapidly deteriorate, however, and the temperature began to rise dramatically. The assistant chief communicated the need for an evacuation to the incident commander.

The two began their escape. At first, they tried to keep their hose line with them but it was caught on something and hindered their exit. The assistant chief left the hose line and became disoriented. He found a window and began to bail out by throwing his legs over the ledge, believing the window opened to a balcony. The window opened to a three-story drop to the ground, however, and he was able to pull himself back in the window. Firefighters on the ground called a mayday for a firefighter bailing out of the window, and retrieved a 35-foot (10.66-meter) ladder and raised it to the window. The chief was able to climb down the ground ladder on his own power. He was evaluated by an on-scene ambulance crew for exhaustion but refused treatment and transportation to the hospital.

A brief after-action report identified several issues that were corrected. The batteries in the PASS devices and end-of-life alarms in the SCBA for both firefighters were dead, and the thermal imaging camera showed whiteout conditions when first used on the third floor. Even so, the assistant chief and firefighter still proceeded into the structure. On a strategic level, the rapid intervention team (RIT) was actively fighting fire and was not prepared to perform its primary function. Without a dedicated RIT, the immediate rescue of a firefighter in need will be delayed. Ground ladders were available and quickly placed into position by firefighters who witnessed the victim attempting to escape.

The mutual aid department implemented training and resources to correct these important issues in calling a mayday, bailout training, and ensuring equipment readiness. Most importantly, the victim identified the importance of calling a mayday early. In his statement, the most valuable lesson was, “I should have called for help as soon as I lost contact with the hose line.” The earlier a firefighter calls a mayday, the greater the chances of survival.


A 41-year-old firefighter sprained his knee while operating a pump at a vehicle fire.

The fire department responded to a junkyard where a tractor trailer truck was burning. The members of the engine company established a water supply, and handlines were placed into operation and began extinguishing the fire.

During these operations, the pump operator stepped over a feeder line and slipped, twisting his knee. He was wearing his protective ensemble except for his SCBA. He was not allowed to return to firefighting activities for six weeks.


A firefighter sustained injuries when he was buried by debris in a structure collapse while fighting a fire.

On a windy and wet afternoon, the fire department received calls reporting a fire at a gas station with a convenience store and fast food restaurant. When firefighters arrived, they encountered a large body fire consuming the store and fast food restaurant in the 5,250-square-foot (488-square-meter) building of lightweight wood construction.

The first engine company attempted to establish a water supply, but the private fire hydrant did not work and extra supply hose was needed to reach another hydrant on the road. Water supply was established within nine minutes after dispatch. Firefighters immediately deployed a ground-level master stream and used a defensive attack to lob water from the outside of the building.

The roof of the structure collapsed just after the engine company established the water supply. Soon after the roof collapse, a firefighter spraying the hoseline through the front windows was struck and trapped by a falling sheet metal façade. Most of the front façade collapsed, and the firefighter was buried under the debris. A firefighter using the handline immediately trained his hose stream onto the burning material engulfing the victim, and firefighters and bystanders tried to pull the firefighter free.

Rescuers were able to lift enough of the material off the firefighter so he could be pulled to safety after about two and a half minutes. He was treated by the crew of an on-scene ambulance and transported to the hospital with first- and second-degree burns to his arms and legs. He was wearing a full protective ensemble including SCBA. The department did not provide details on the firefighter’s time lost, treatment, or return to firefighting activities.