NIOSH Issues Guides for Firefighter Safety

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has issued recommendations on preserving firefighters from injury and death from structural collapses while on the job.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued recommendations on preserving firefighters from injury and death from structural collapses while on the job.

Between 1989 and 1998, 56 of the 316 firefighters killed while fighting structural fires died when parts of the structure collapsed. "NIOSH Alert: Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Firefighters Due to Structural Collapse" has been issued to professional and volunteer firefighting crews, environmental, health and safety managers, unions, officials and insurance companies.

Recommendations are based on findings of NIOSH's Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program team and observations of independent fire safety specialists and organizations.

Structural collapses are unpredictable and frequently result in multiple fatalities as firefighters fall from or through structural components or are trapped under and within debris. NIOSH recommendations "reflect sensible precautions for averting such dangers and protecting the men and women who perform extraordinary service for the public good every day," said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., MPH.

The recommendations include:

  • Commanders at the fire scene will conduct an initial assessment of the risk of structural collapse, with subsequent reassessments of imminent life-threatening situations that may require rescue;
  • Commanders are accountable for the location and activities of all fire personnel at the scene;
  • Four firefighters in full protective gear will be on-site before anyone enters the burning structure;
  • Teams inside and outside the structure will remain in constant contact;
  • A specialized team will stand ready to immediately rescue the team inside the structure, if needed;
  • The firefighting team inside the building will be in two-way communication with commanders;
  • Procedures, including emergency radio signals, will be established to prevent loss or disruption of emergency and rescue communications;
  • Firefighters will be equipped with audible alarms (i.e., personal alert safety system, or PASS, devices) in hazardous situations;
  • Pre-fire planning and inspections will examine structural materials and components;
  • A signal, sound or tone will be prearranged to alert firefighting teams of the need to evacuate the structure; and
  • The area surrounding buildings with parapet walls that protrude above the roof level will be zoned off to prevent injuries from collapsing walls.

Text of "NIOSH Alert: Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Firefighters Due to Structural Collapse" [DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-146] is posted at www.cdc.gov/niosh or by calling NIOSH information at (800) 35-NIOSH.

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