On May 7, 2009, two captains, a lieutenant, and five fire fighters were injured during a natural gas explosion at a strip mall in Maryland. At 1254 hours, dispatch reported a natural gas leak inside a business at a strip mall. Five minutes later, the initial responding crew and the incident commander (IC) arrived on scene to find a gas company employee looking for an underground gas leak. Approximately 6 minutes later, a natural gas leak was found near the exterior rear corner of the structure. After 23 minutes on scene, approximately 45 civilians were evacuated from 7 occupied businesses.
A captain exited the rear door of the business that had called in the natural gas leak and noticed fire along the roof line. Crews in the front and rear of the structure had begun to pull hoselines as another captain was looking out the rear doorway of a middle unoccupied business and noticed the electric meter located on the exterior wall on fire. Anticipating an explosion, he tried to leap out the rear doorway. At the same time, a fire fighter had entered the front door of the unoccupied business, noticed the heavy smell of natural gas, and felt air rush by as the structure exploded. Debris and fire blew out the front, rear, and roof of the structure. The captain who tried to leap out the rear doorway was blown into the rear parking lot and the fire fighter who had entered the front of the structure was blown out the front door and covered with debris. Numerous other fire fighters, primarily near the front of the structure were blown off their feet and hit with debris.
An uninjured captain issued a Mayday, followed by the IC ordering evacuation tones and a personnel accountability report. Crews began to look for the captain who was blown out the rear doorway. He had walked around the side to the front of the structure, and radioed his location to command. Fire fighters began moving injured personnel to ambulances staged in the front parking lot. Eight fire fighters and a gas company employee were transported to local hospitals. The injuries ranged from third degree burns to an ankle sprain.
Key contributing factors identified in this investigation included: insufficient execution of the fire department’s updated standard operating guidelines (SOGs) on incidents involving flammable gas, e.g., apparatus and fire fighters operating in a flammable area (hot zone); the accumulation of natural gas in the structure’s void spaces; unmitigated ignition source; insufficient combustible gas monitoring equipment usage and training; and, ineffective ventilation techniques.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. In fiscal year 1998, the Congress appropriated funds to NIOSH to conduct a fire fighter initiative. NIOSH initiated the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program to examine deaths of fire fighters in the line of duty so that fire departments, fire fighters, fire service organizations, safety experts and researchers could learn from these incidents. The primary goal of these investigations is for NIOSH to make recommendations to prevent similar occurrences. These NIOSH investigations are intended to reduce or prevent future fire fighter deaths and are completely separate from the rulemaking, enforcement and inspection activities of any other federal or state agency. Under its program, NIOSH investigators interview persons with knowledge of the incident and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the deaths in order to provide a context for the agency’s recommendations. The NIOSH summary of these conditions and circumstances in its reports is not intended as a legal statement of facts. This summary, as well as the conclusions and recommendations made by NIOSH, should not be used for the purpose of litigation or the adjudication of any claim. For further information, visit the program website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire or call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
Prince George's County Fire Chief Eugene A. Jones thanks NIOSH and their investigators for their work in compiling this fact finding report. He stated, "The NIOSH report has highlighted areas of improvement that will be addressed within my Department. I hope that other Fire Departments take the time to study the report and use the recommendations to avoid injuires or line of duty deaths."
Fire Chief Jones is requiring the volunteer and career membership to read the report and commence drills on their findings. He has also asked his command staff to review the recommendations and provide direction for compliance.
Read PGFD Original Press Release Here.
Read NIOSH Report Here.