Report Released on Death of Young Firefighter in Fall from Truck

Report Released on Death of Young Firefighter in Fall from Truck

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released a report on the death earlier this year of a 21-year-old volunteer firefighter who was killed when he fell from the tailboard of a tanker truck in Virginia.

On February 13, 2012, the victim, Zachary Whitacre, a firefighter with the Gore (VA) Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, died after falling from the tailboard of a fire department tanker (Tanker 14). The victim, acting as a spotter and using the driver’s side mirror, had successfully guided the driver in backing the tanker to position its tailboard near the dump tank. The driver of Tanker 14 stayed in the driver’s seat and watched the water gauge indicator lights on the pump panel through his side mirror.

The victim, located on the tailboard, operated the dump valve to fill the folding tank. When the driver saw the tank-empty light flash, he left the fire scene to go to the water source to refill the tanker.

Unknown to the Tanker 14 driver, another tanker (Tanker 9) had inadvertently dropped approximately 1,500 gallons of water on the roadway while also responding to the incident. Tanker 9 had reported the inadvertent drop to their dispatcher, but Tanker 14 had not heard this communication. As Tanker 14 traveled this same roadway en route to the water source, it hit a patch of black ice that had resulted from the inadvertent water drop. The Tanker 14 driver lost control and the tanker spun around a number of times before impacting a berm on the shoulder of the roadway. The Tanker 14 driver was injured but was able to radio for help and crawl out of the passenger side door. The driver then saw the victim lying unresponsive in the roadway. A rescue unit from the fire scene responded to the crash along with other units and emergency medical aid was performed. The victim was taken to a local hospital, where he died from his injuries.

The report noted several contributing factors:

  • Failure to check the apparatus before leaving the scene (driver walk-around)
  • Inadequate communications between the driver and victim
  • Unintentional discharge of water onto roadway in freezing conditions
  • Ice on roadway
  • Fire department communication interoperability.

It also made several recommendations:

  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters are properly trained to ensure that the apparatus is ready for the road before leaving the fire scene (including a driver walk-around).
  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters are properly trained and equipped to communicate task-level functions.
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire department driver/operators are trained in techniques for maintaining control of their vehicle at all times.
  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters from different departments can communicate with each other via radio.
  • Fire departments should consider installing rear view camera(s) with monitor(s) inside the cab.
  • Fire apparatus manufacturers should use engineering controls (such as electronic lockouts and engineering guards) to ensure that water dump valves cannot activate unintentionally.

Read the entirety of the report at

NIOSH firefighter fatality reports can provide critical incidents into what went wrong at deadly incidents. More of these reports can be accessed at

For training articles on apparatus driving, consider reading:

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