Report: Miscommunication an issue in death of Lt. Bruce Britt

3 years 3 months 2 weeks ago Wednesday, February 04 2015 Feb 4, 2015 Wednesday, February 04, 2015 1:55:00 PM CST February 04, 2015 in News
By: Annie Hammock, KOMU 8 Interactive Director

COLUMBIA - Miscommunication and lack of on-site planning were contributing factors in the death of a Columbia firefighter, Lt. Bruce Britt, when a walkway collapsed at University Village Apartments last year, according to a new federal report.

The 35-page report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) includes the initial 911 call and tracks the movements of Britt and other emergency responders from their arrival on the scene through Britt's death.

Britt was killed when the second floor walkway he was on gave way beneath him. But as events unfolded, the walkway was mentioned only once, during the 911 call, as a cause for concern.

The initial 911 call and resulting emergency dispatches contained multiple references to a collapsed roof.

Here is the 911 transcript:

Call Taker: 911 what's the address of your emergency?
Caller: Hello how are you doing? Hello?
Call Taker: Hi, this is 911.
Caller: Yes ma'am, actually umm, we have a problem with our apartment, the roof has just fell down to the ground.
Call Taker: Ok, what's your address?
Caller: Our address is _____, apartment 707
Call Taker: Ok and the roof fell in?
Caller: Yes, the sidewalk actually of the second roof fell down on the first roof.
Call Taker: Is anybody hurt?
Caller: I don't know ma'am actually we just actually woke up just suddenly like that, we don't we aren't sure yet, we just shocked."
The Call Taker asked for and verified a callback number and name for the caller.
Call Taker: Ok and you don't know if anyone is trapped or hurt?
Caller: Well we don't, we are not sure ma'am, but we cannot go out of our apartment actually we are trapped here.
Call Taker: Ok.
Call Taker: So you are trapped in your apartment?
Caller: Yes, ma'am...
Call Taker: And how many...
Caller: ...we are afraid...
Call Taker: How many are in
your apartment?
Caller: Two.
Call Taker: And you're still, you're still in your apartment right? You haven't fallen through?
Caller: Yes ma'am, yeah we are really afraid because we are not sure if that will be fall again.
The call taker verifies no hazardous materials are involved, advises caller that the fire department is on the way, and provides the caller with safety instructions (e.g., do not attempt to rescue any trapped persons or no one reenters the area).
Caller: ... it looks very bad.
Call Taker: Are you above or below ground?
Caller: We are the second floor?
Call Taker: Ok.
Caller: Yeah, actually it's just in front of our apartment.
Call Taker: Ok, and is anyone injured?
Caller: I told you ma'am we are not sure actually...
Call Taker: Are you or your wife injured?
Caller: No, no we are fine we are just shocked actually because you know we were sleeping.
Call Taker: "Ok, once, if it's safe to do so I want you to keep all bystanders away from the area. I know that you're trapped in your apartment but if anybody.
Caller: "Yes."
The call taker tells caller to stay away from hazardous areas, help is on the way, and to call back if things worsen.

Immediately after the 911 call, dispatch issued an alert for a "building collapse." In a message to Britt's unit shortly after, dispatch said, "We are getting reports of a roof collapse in apartment 707.

Several messages that followed between dispatch and emergency responders included references to a roof collapse or roof cave in.

When Britt and his crew arrived at the scene, they reported seeing no signs of damage and contacted dispatch to make sure they had the right address. Britt then said, "There's nothing wrong with building 707. "

At that point, Britt and others did a visual inspection by walking around the building. On multiple occassions, Britt said he saw no signs of a collapse.

Britt, another firefighter and a university police officer then climbed a set of stairs to the second floor to begin knocking on doors until they came to the 911 callers. After determining the couple was not hurt, Britt moved ahead.

About the same time, from a fire truck below, another firefighter noticed what appeared to be rock or gravel falling from the corner of the building. He immediately concluded it was not the roof that was the issue, but the walkway. He yelled to Britt as more debris began to fall.

Up on the second floor, the other firefighter and university police officer heard a loud bang or cracking and turned to see the walkway collapsing, the brick façade pulling away from the exterior. They lost sight of Britt as he fell and the walkway detached from the building and landed on him.

Several emergency responders rushed over and determined Britt was trapped by debris. For 11 minutes, they used temporary supports and airbags to free him from the rubble. By the time Britt was extricated, he had no pulse and was not breathing. His cause of death was later ruled traumatic compression asphyxia.

The NIOSH report said "situational awareness" and "inadequate caller information" contributed to Britt's death, along with deterioration of the walkway, a situation dispatch did not communicate to responders.

The NIOSH report says two sentences from the 911 call could have made a difference, had they been communicated to responders:

Caller: Yes, the sidewalk actually of the second roof fell down on the first roof.

Caller: Yeah, actually it's just in front of our apartment.

According to the report, those two pieces of information "may have prompted responding firefighters to conduct further size-up of the building conditions."

The report notes the university's master plan had previously determined the building was in poor condition. The university ordered concrete deck repairs. In the plan, two other buildings in the complex had already been deemed a public safety hazard.

Many components of the walkway and its supports were "severely deteriorated," according to NIOSH, in part because the walkway was "exposed to the elements for many years."

A structural engineering firm that investigated the collapse is quoted in the NIOSH report. It said it was confident the collapse was the result of a concrete shear failure along the outer edge and the large "bang" initially reported by residents was probably the sound of that shear failure.

The firm also said the walkway was likely detached completely from the wall and sagged but was held in place by "membrane action" until the load on it exceeded its "bond and tension strength."

NIOSH is making several recommendations based on its investigations. It said higher education facilities should develop strategies for inspection of student housing complexes and immediately address potential hazards.

It said fire departments should train workers in situational awareness and consider designating incident safety officers. The report recommended fire personnel maintain a higher than normal degree of caution when operating around elevated walkways and exposed structural elements.

NIOSH also recommended dispatch centers should ensure 911 call takers clearly understand a situation and properly inform responders. It also said higher education facilities should work with fire departments to develop pre-incident plans for buildings within their jurisdiction.

The report said the Columbia Fire Department and the University of Missouri had a liaison, but it was not focused on structural engineering problems that posed a genuine risk for responders.

Battalion Chief Brad Frazier said, "The NIOSH report is written for all departments around the country, not written just for CFD. We are reviewing the report and we are always looking to improve the level of service we provide and that includes safety."

A spokesperson for MU said the university cannot comment on the report because a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Britt's family is pending.

 

 

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