NIOSH report — fatality of Cactus, Texas firefighter

NIOSH report, Texas wildfire fatalityNIOSH has released their report on the line of duty death of Cactus, Texas firefighter Elias Jaquez. While working on a wildfire on April 9, 2011 Mr. Jaquez suffered 3rd degree burns over 60% of his body and died 11 days later in a burn center. (Wildfire Today’s original report on the fatality.)

During fire suppression operations, the engine that Mr. Jaquez was in became stuck in sand. Efforts by that crew and a second engine to free the truck were unsuccessful when both became stuck. The crews of the engines fled on foot as the fire approached. Later Mr. Jaquez was found by himself 1.0 to 1.5 miles away lying face down on a road. He was still wearing a structural fire-fighting helmet, bunker pants, T-shirt, and the remains of his metal frames from his safety glasses. His rubber turnout boots had been removed and were lying in the road behind him. He had experienced severe third degree burns on his torso and head; however, he was conscious and coherent.

Here are some excerpts from the NIOSH report:


Fire Department

The victim’s fire department is a volunteer fire department with one fire station staffed by 17 volunteer fire fighters. The fire department provides fire protection for an incorporated area of two square miles, serving approximately 2,600 residents. The fire department maintained limited records and could not substantiate the number of responses or incidents they responded to annually, nor could they produce training records for members.

Training and Experience

In Texas, all volunteer fire fighter training requirements, certification requirements, and standards are determined by local fire departments. The victim’s fire department reported that they did not have training or certification requirements for an individual to join and participate as a member of their department. The department was also unable to provide documentation of any formal fire training or certifications for the victim during his tenure as a volunteer fire fighter. It was unknown or documented how long the victim was a member of the fire department.

Contributing Factors:

  • Ineffective situational awareness
  • Ineffective training on wildland fire-fighting
  • Ineffective personnel accountability system
  • Ineffective personal protective equipment
  • A safety zone and escape route were not effectively communicated to all fire fighters
  • Failure to use a fire shelter from the approaching fire.

Key Recommendations:

  • Ensure that the Incident Commander conducts a continuous risk assessment of the incident in terms of savable lives, savable property, and fire fighter safety
  • Fire fighters who engage in wildland fire-fighting should be trained to meet the minimum training requirements as required by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) or NFPA 1051, Standard for Wildland Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications
  • Fire departments and fire service agencies should ensure that fire fighters fully comply with “The Standard Fire Orders “and are aware of the “18 Watchout Situations” and “Common Denominators of Fire Behavior on Tragedy Fires”
  • Lookouts, communications, escape routes, and safety zones (LCES) should be established and communicated to all fire fighters
  • Fire fighters who engage in wildland fire-fighting should use personal protective equipment that meets NFPA 1977, Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting
  • A personnel accountability system should be used to account for all fire fighters and first responders assigned to any incident
  • Provide fire fighters with approved fire shelters and provide training on the proper deployment of the fire shelters
  • Fire departments should ensure apparatus driver/operators are familiar with the operation of their apparatus, especially when driving off-road.
  • Additionally, governing municipalities (federal, state, regional, and local) should consider requiring mandatory training for wildland fire fighters.

Thanks go out to Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.