The Truth Hurts, So Learn From It on Backstep Firefighter

Three years ago, 4 April, Colerain Township lost two firefighters in an early morning residential structure fire. Captain Robin M. Broxterman and Firefighter Brian W. Schira were killed when a section of floor collapsed trapping them in the basement. Both NIOSH and Colerain Township conducted investigations into this fire, links to both can be found in the Colerain Township Report and the NIOSH report.

Side ALPHA of 5708 Squirrelsnest LN.

The NIOSH reports as a whole contain a tremendous amount of information. One complaint with these reports is that they tend to be too vanilla or too general. Many departments do their own investigation, and maybe because it is okay to criticize within the fold, these reports tend to be a bit more specific and direct in their findings. The Colerain Township Report lives up to that reputation.

The following is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

The following factors were believed to have directly contributed to the deaths of Captain Broxterman and Firefighter Schira:
• A delayed arrival at the incident scene that allowed the fire to progress significantly;
• A failure to adhere to fundamental firefighting practices; and
• A failure to abide by fundamental firefighter self-rescue and survival concepts.

Although the aforementioned factors were believed to have directly contributed to their deaths, they might have been prevented if:
• Some personnel had not been complacent or apathetic in their initial approach to this incident;
• Some personnel were in a proper state of mind that made them more observant of their surroundings and indicators;
• The initial responding units were provided with all pertinent information in a timely manner relative to the incident;
• Personnel assigned to Engine 102 possessed a comprehensive knowledge of their first-due response area;
• A 360-degree size-up of the building accompanied by a risk – benefit analysis was conducted by the company officer prior to initiating interior fire suppression operations;
• Comprehensive standard operating guidelines specifically related to structural firefighting existed within the department;
• The communications system users (on-scene firefighters and those monitoring the incident) weren’t all vying for limited radio air time;
• The communications equipment and accessories utilized were more appropriate for the firefighting environment;
• Certain tactical-level decisions and actions were based on the specific conditions;
• Personnel had initiated fundamental measures to engage in if they were to become disoriented or trapped inside a burning building; and
• Issued personal protective equipment was utilized in the correct manner.

View of basement stairway from the basement level with hose line deployed over finished top board of stairway wall enclosure.

The fire that claimed the lives of these firefighters is like many fires that occur daily throughout the country. So often the difference between coming home and not coming home, is luck. Certainly there are always things we could do better, but often we “get away” with doing things wrong for so long that we accept that way of operating. Then along comes that one incident where if we are not 100% ready, well things going wrong and quickly.

The reason that NIOSH and departments investigate line of duty deaths is so that they can identify what went wrong and then fix those problems to prevent them from happening again. The reason these reports are shared with all of us is so that we can learn as well. There is no reason for us not to read and learn from these reports. Certainly not all fire departments are created equal and some of the lessons may not be applicable to your department; however there are a lot of lessons that are and if you are unwilling or unable to learn from someone else’s mistakes, then you are doomed to make those same mistakes yourself.

With this the third anniversary of the deaths of Captain Robin M. Broxterman and Firefighter Brian W. Schira, take the time to honor their memories by reading the Colerain Township final report and learning from the problems that were identified there. You owe that much to Robin and Brian.

Investigation Analysis of the Squirrelsnest Lane Firefighter Line o... Colerain Township Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services
A Career Captain and a Part-time Fire Fighter Die in a Residential ..., NIOSH

Photographs courtesy Colerain Township Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

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Comment by ROOKIELZ on April 4, 2011 at 2:26pm
Some very valid points in this review.
Approaching every fire the same way with the same mindset is bound to get someone seriously injured or killed because the team or leader (or both) is operating under the assumption that what worked before will work again and again. That blind assumption without a careful 360* sizeup, the ability to recognize changes and quickly adjust tactics appropriately can lead to these deadly mistakes. Just because it worked 3 times in a row doesn't mean it will work a fourth time.

Assess, adapt, attack, assess, adapt, attack....AND .... COMMUNICATION as necessary.

A quick report to the sector IC is necessary by the crew leader. Four guys all vying for radio time to report the same thing is not.

Brushing up on multiple tactics, being able to change tactics midstream; priceless.

One more thought....just because a tactic isn't working and a change is needed, it shouldn't be a big deal. Officers/crew leaders should not view it as necessarily a bad thing that the first tactic didn't work. Effect the change and then file the information away for the next time out.

A wrong tactic is one thing. Failing to learn from it is another. Being too stubborn to change tactics, unable to maintain discipline and train as needed is a deadly combination.

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