Federal report into death of San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem released to public

Federal report states contributing factors to Deem's death

By RJ Marquez - Digital Content Curator

SAN ANTONIO - A federal report into the death of San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem was released to the public and details the night Deem lost his life while battling a four-alarm fire inside a building at the Ingram Square Shopping Center.

Deem died in the line of duty on May 18, 2017. Fellow firefighter Brad Phipps nearly lost his life in the fire.

The San Antonio Fire Department volunteered for the federal study with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, to look at ways to prevent further injuries to any firefighters.

Chief Charles Hood said the study is an opportunity for the fire department to learn from the tragic day Deem died.

The report gives a detailed timeline of events leading to Deem's death and the tactics used by SAFD crews to battle the massive fire, which was later ruled by investigators as arson.

The summary states contributing factors to Deem's death and Phipps' injuries include:  

  • Arson fire.
  • No sprinkler system in commercial structure. 
  • High wind conditions. G​usts were up to 25 mph that night, causing a blowtorch effect on the fire.
  • Zero visibility and cluttered floor space impeded hose line advancement in the gym where the fire started.  
  • Freelancing fire tactics. Ladder company searching for fire beyond protection of hose stream.
  • Crew integrity not maintained.
  • Uncoordinated ventilation when crews opened a back door, not understanding there were strong winds. 

The study also provided key recommendations that included: 

Fire departments should integrate current fire behavior research findings developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) into operational procedures by developing or updating standard operating procedures, conducting live fire training, and revising fire ground tactics including how to recognize and fight ventilation-limited fires, hose stream tactics, and wind-driven fires. 

Additionally, state, local and municipal governments, building owners and authorities having jurisdiction should consider requiring the use of sprinkler systems in commercial structures.

Hood spoke to KSAT in September before the full report was released to the public. He discussed the importance of sprinklers and proposed changes to the department in the wake of Deem's death.

“We are fighting hard to get sprinklers in residential high-rise structures within the city, but the regional requirement is for strip shopping centers to have a sprinkler system. But sprinkler systems do save lives, and we acknowledge that.”

Proposed changes to the Fire Department:

  • Adding an incumbent training officer, who would help with continuing education and training. 
  • Adding $600,000 in funding for Blue Card training.
  • Twelve firefighters will get Blue Card certified and then train the rest of the department. A refresher training would be done every two years.
  • The fire department has created a training center named in honor of Deem.

Hood added that Phipps is doing amazingly well with his recovery and said his fellow firefighters would like to see him back in his uniform one day.

The man accused of starting the fire, Emond Johnson, is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 1, 2019.

You can read the full report here.

Scott Deem

Brad Phipps

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