Two Firefighters Killed by Rogue Welding

By ThinkReliability  Staff

On March 26, 2014, two firefighters were killed when trapped in a basement by a quickly spreading, very dangerous fire in Boston, Massachusetts. These firefighters appear to have been the first to succumb to injuries directly caused by fire while on the job in 2014. The company that was found responsible for starting the fire has been fined by OSHA for failure to follow safety procedures. Says Brenda Gordon, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts, “This company’s failure to implement these required, common-sense safeguards put its own employees at risk and resulted in a needless, tragic fire.”

Every incident that results in a fatality should be carefully investigated. Investigations are used not only for liability and regulatory reasons, but also to develop solutions to reduce the risk of similar fatalities happening in the future. Investigating an incident such as this in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, allows for better solutions by determining all the cause-and-effect relationships that led to the issue.

First it’s important to define how goals were impacted in order to define the scope of the problem. In this case, two firefighters were killed, which impacts the safety goal. In addition, the spread of the fire, damage of nearby buildings and associated civil lawsuits are also impacts to the goals. The OSHA fine of $58,000 for 10 violations of workplace safety regulations is an impact to the regulatory goal. The response to the fire, as well as the multiple investigations, are impacts to the labor/time goal.

Beginning with an impacted goal and asking “Why” questions develops cause-and-effect relationships that explain how the incident occurred. In this case, the firefighters perished when they were trapped by fire. The firefighters were in the basement of a residential building to rescue occupants from a fire, and the fire was so hot and dangerous that the firefighters could not exit, and other firefighters were unable to come to their rescue. Extremely windy conditions spread the fire caused by a welding spark that struck a nearby wood shed.   OSHA investigators note that the company performing the welding did not follow safety precautions (including having a fire watcher and moving welding away from flammable objects) that would have reduced the risk for fire. They cited the lack of an effective fire prevention/ protection program and a lack of training in workplace and fire safety. View the Cause Map by clicking “Download PDF” above.

Ideally the fine levied by OSHA will encourage the company involved to increase its methods of fire protection, not only to protect its own workers, but also to protect the public. In addition, the Boston Fire Department is conducting an internal review to improve firefighter safety. Says Steve MacDonald, spokesman, “What they’re doing is looking at policies and procedures. They’re reviewing everything, reviewing weather, radio communications, anything and everything having to do with the fire.”

On July 5th, another firefighter died after being trapped in a building while looking for occupants during a fire in Brooklyn, New York. On July 9th, a firefighter in Houston, Texas was killed of smoke inhalation inside a burning building. A firefighter died in a building collapse due to fire in New Carlisle, Indiana on August 5, 2014, making a total of 5 firefighters who have died as a direct result of smoke/fire injuries while on the call of duty so far in 2014. In 2013, a total of 30 firefighters were killed on the job, most as the result of the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona.