Chesapeake (VA) Auto Parts Store Roof Collapse Double LODD 1996

Chesapeake (VA) Auto Parts Store Roof Collapse Double LODD 1996

Christopher Naum, SFPE



Fifteen years ago, on March 18, 1996, two firefighters were killed in Chesapeake, Virginia when they became trapped by a rapidly spreading fire in an auto parts store and a pre-engineered wood truss roof assembly collapsed on them. The cause of the fire was an electrical short created when a power company truck working in the rear of the building drove away with its boom in an elevated position, accidentally pulling an electrical feed line from the main breaker panel at the rear of the store.

Post-incident investigations indicate that the electrical fault may have sparked multiple points of fire origin throughout the roof structure of the building, due to improperly grounded wiring.


At the time of the report issuance, this was exemplified as another incident illustrating the rapid failure of lightweight construction systems when key support components are involved in a fire.


The report pointed out the importance of prefire planning and accurate size up by fire companies to determine the risk factors associated with a fire in this type of construction.


Lessons regarding importance of initial company actions, constant re-evaluation of action plans, strong command and coordination of units on the fireground, and recognition of signs of impending structural failure were also reinforced.


Fifteen years later, reading through any number of NIOSH, USFA or NFPA reports, similar issues, challenges and operational factors resonate and continue to shape and challenge today’s fire ground operations.


It is without exception that the knowledge and insights being gained by the recent and past UL and NIST Research Studies coupled with the recommendations, from the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (HERE)


Today’s fire ground is changing at a very rapid pace as it relates to the continued evolution, transition of engineered structural components and systems (ESS). Are you prepared, knowledgeable and understand that new strategic and tactical approaches are required?  


One of the most significant actions initiated by the Chesapeake Fire Department was the implementation of a Truss Identification Program (TIP).


Take a look at a past posting on where we published on an overview of truss and engineering component systems placards and marking systems across the United States HERE. 


  • For the Complete Incident Overview, go to, HERE
  • Follow Buildingsonfire on Facebook HERE for timely posts and informational links




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