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April 18, 2017

Investigation reveals failures contributed to Philly firefighter's death

Aging equipment and delayed backup arrival were significant factors in the line-of-duty death of Philadelphia firefighter Joyce Craig, according to city and federal reviews.

On Monday, the Philadelphia Fire Department and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released reports on the 2014 fire in the city's West Oak Lane section. Both investigations drew similar conclusions.

Craig, an 11-year veteran, became the first female firefighter to die on duty in the city's history.

“Joyce Craig’s death was devastating to her family and to the Department,” Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said. “We hope the lessons learned from these reports will prevent such tragedies in the future.”

During the December blaze, Craig became lost and ran out of air after issuing seven mayday calls on the first floor of the residence. About 15 minutes later, she was found unconscious and rushed to Albert Einstein Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators determined that the fire burned a hole in her breathing hose, which depleted her 45-minute air supply. The Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) was identified as a direct cause of Craig's death.

Both reports issued recommendations that the city upgrades safety equipment, including SCBA and Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS). City officials said the equipment has already been updated.

Another factor, deemed an indirect cause, was the ongoing decommissioning of five engine and two ladder companies since January 2009. The procedure was known as the "Rolling Brown Out Policy," which ended in February 2016.

The staffing shortage forced a delayed response by backup. The response time was 21 minutes. The city's report claims the truck was "stuck behind some cars" while the federal report read "the crew was not familiar with the streets in the area." Both recommended an end to the brown-out policy.

The Mayor's Office noted that firefighter positions were added mid-fiscal year 2017 and next year's budget calls for 30 additional firefighters to allow for more on-duty training.

City officials anticipate the proposed resources will be made available to the fire department.