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Learning from the Experience of Others

One year ago, two highly regarded firefighters in a well managed and well respected organization lost their lives in a residential structure fire. The fire which originated in the basement caused a floor collapse which claimed the two firefighters. What follows is a shorten version of the official description of the event. It provides many topics for discussion and review.

I would strongly suggest you place yourself in the role of Captain Broxterman or the any other positions to first try to understand what goals they were trying to achieve and what was occupying their thoughts as this event unfolded. Then read the entire report and see what you can learn that you can do or suggest to help your organization to better help those who are faced with making decisions on the fireground more effective and safer.

There is every possibility you will face a similar fire in your department, how can we support one another better, how can we work more effectively together. See what your crew thinks, see if they are willing to accept that we all are vulnerable any time at every fire.

On Friday, April 4, 2008, Captain Robin Broxterman, 37-years-old, a 17-year veteran
career firefighter and paramedic, and Firefighter Brian Schira, 29-years-old, a six-month
probationary, part-time firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician with Colerain Fire &EMS died after the floor they were operating on collapsed at a residential structure fire. Dispatched at 06:11:23, two engine companies (Engines 102 & 109), one ladder company (Ladder 25),and the Battalion Chief (District 25) were dispatched to investigate at 06:12:45. At 06:13:43, following a second notification reporting a fire in the basement of the structure the initial response was upgraded to a structure fire response to include one additional engine company (Engine 25), one rescue company(Rescue 26), and one squad unit (Squad 25).

Captain Robin Broxterman commanding Engine 102 with four personnel, herself and three firefighters arrived on the scene at approximately 06:23:45 reporting moderate smoke showing and established Squirrelsnest Command. Verification was made through face-to-face communication with the male homeowner that all occupants were out of the structure, which was then relayed to Captain Broxterman.

District 25 arrived at the scene at 06:26:18, and assumed Command from Capt. Broxterman. At 06:26:29, Capt. Broxterman, Firefighter Schira deployed an inch and three quarter pre-connected hose line through the front main entrance toward the rear of the structure. The fire was determined to be located in the basement of the structure.

At06:27:35, Capt. Broxterman reported, E102 making entry into the basement, heavy smoke. At06:34:20 Engine 25 was the designated Rapid Assistance Team (RAT), having just completed their 360-degree size-up around the structure encountered E102 second firefighter in the front yard of the structure, whom reported that he had lost contact with his crew.

At 06:35:10, the Incident Commander identified a potential Mayday operation, which indicates a life threatening situation to a firefighter. RAT25 was deployed at 06:36:30. An official Mayday operation was declared at 06:37:23, and an immediate request was made at06:37:30 for a second alarm.

At 06:41:43,RAT25 entered the basement from the rear of the structure. At 07:00:12, E26 entered through the front main entrance of the structure and into the basement by means of the interior stairway. It was noted that during the search efforts, no audible signals from either victims Personal Alert Safety System devices were heard.

Both firefighters were located in the basement. Capt. Broxterman was located at 07:08:05, and Ffr. Schira was located at 07:29:28.Both firefighters were buried under collapsed structural components and contents. Capt.Broxterman and Firefighter Schira were declared deceased at the scene as a result of their injuries.

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Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on April 20, 2009 at 11:26am
There is a great bit of information in Ray's post. I think that post alone is one that could be the center of a great morning table discussion with your crew. We don't all get the same kind of fires and we need to be able to use tactics that work for our areas althought, like Ray says, the basics are the same. Thanks for the post.
Comment by Ray McCormack on April 15, 2009 at 7:40pm
As you know Chief In areas where private homes abound the general idea of size up includes a peak at the rear. When this is not done many eyebrows are raised. In addition private homes often lend themselves to multiple entrances, so it is not uncommon for debate to spark concerning which doorway it choose. However when you come form a world of apartment houses where viewing the rear is almost impossible and alternate entry points for the attack line do not exist except for fire escapes and stretches that go beyond the preconnect routinely then you look at size up a bit differently. I can look around all I want - my line will go through the front entrance. The reasons make sense for private homes as well. Protect egress, protect searches,shorter stretch, quicker water on the fire, own the hallway, direct route to the room on fire. The battle to win an apartment fire is something that we strive hard to obtain using limited options. Unlike a private home many companies may be operating above the main fire floor.
Comment by Paul J De Bartolomeo on April 13, 2009 at 7:42pm
Cheif halton,
Thanks for the response and the updated info. I to find these discussions fascinating in that there are so many varied points of view and they really open your eyes to different ways of thinking. It is unfortunate that this fire had such a tragic outcome but it is good to see the fire sevice community can learn from these situations and improve upon itself as a whole. I agree with much of what you said about the first due officers taking a tactical role as opposed to a command role. Their imput and experience is needed immeadiately with the foot solidgers making a push on the fire. Being that I also come from a very tactical based fire dept this approach seems very logical to me. I look forward to reading the new book, and yes I am coming to the show. We arrive on the 17th, I look forward to meeting you at the instructor meeting.
stay Safe,
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on April 13, 2009 at 5:53pm
Good to hear from you Jeff.
Stay safe.
Comment by Jeff Schwering on April 13, 2009 at 5:02pm
Paul and Jason,
I've stuck with you guys, but I've been a little busy with a new company and crew, that's for another time. Both of you bring up great points. I still believe stretching through the front door is the way to go, I've been on fires, where the first in company tried to stretch to the rear and came up short, unfortunately, a civilian perished in that fire. It would be nice to have the best of both worlds, enough manpower on the engine to make the stretch through the front door and give the company officer a chance to see where the fire is at and going. Running a 3 person engine doesn't give the officer the opportunity. The officer has to process what is in front of him and go from there. Jason and I work in the same county and firefighters going through floors has become a regular thing lately. Bobby, thanks for clarifing where the firefighters were and I agree the first due officer needs to get his hands dirty, keep the crew together, and do his best to process information and keep them safe.

Stay Safe
Comment by Bobby Halton on April 13, 2009 at 2:56pm

Sorry it took me so long to get back to the thread I've been a bit tied up with FDIC. According to all the investigators so far it appears that the two firefighters returned to the main floor and fell into the basement. Tactically speaking there are several interesting options that present itself at this particular fire. What I have been looking into lately is what considerations were going through the mind of the captain in particular as she approached this event. Often times we use hindsight to say if she had done this or if she had done that which is fine we can do that however scientifically referred to that is counterfactual reasoning. It's excellent and building models going forward we need to engage in that very behavior. My thoughts are this was the captain able to process all the information coming at her, given the circumstances she found herself in is a reasonable to expect her to be able to conceptualize and predict what behaviors she is going to expect from subsequent arriving units as we currently do in our most widely accepted command structure. What I am working on in my new book Fireground mental agility is moving the fire service back towards a more tactical team based approach to structural firefighting. What is interesting to me in reading this discussion is that Mike comes from a very standard Fireground command style fire department and Ray comes from a very tactical based fire department. So for me that discussion between those two guys was fascinating. And I enjoy the fact as to you that civility is a rule in this community and not just a word. When I was younger firemen were known for being gentlemen, here at fire engineering we never lost that connection to the need for civility and respect in all our discussions. Tactically we could go on forever on that one, one could discuss cellar nozzles, piercing nozzles, exterior attack, even the old Lloyd Leyman compartmentalized firefighting drop the nozzle down the stairs and shut the cellar stairs door. I think I enjoyed Jason's comments on tactics is it really shows a good team approach to the fire problem which is what we need to return to. I know this is going to sound like blasphemy I really believe the idea of the first arriving officer assuming a command role is highly dysfunctional. In Fireground mental agility I argue that the first arriving officer should simply select tactical solution and subsequent arriving officers should support that solution or voice their concerns with it. Command level officers upon arrival should assume command. But that's for another day this is a great thread let's keep it done and I apologize that I had dropped off. Are you guys coming to the show?
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on April 13, 2009 at 10:05am

Good comments. By the way, I think your right about the collapse, I re-read the report and I think your right. I also believe that on 98% of fires the front door is the way to go. In recent years, especially around here, we have had several ff's fall through floors. I still maintain that if the origin and seat of the fire can be reached from the rear side, it is most effective. Also, just for clarification, this rear, side Charlie, is exposed and a mostly frame wall. I'm okay with taking a little more time to reduce the IDLH environment that my crews have to face by using the front door on a fire like this.

Also, thanks for keeping this civil. It is obvious you have a great deal of experience and knowledge. Have a great week. It seems nobody else stuck with us.?
Comment by Paul J De Bartolomeo on April 12, 2009 at 12:17pm
Jason, just a further comment on your post. Conventional thinking throughout the fire service is to place the initial handline between the main body of fire and the primary means of egress. So stretching through the front door is not only a sound tactic but is in line with what is widely accepted throughout the fire service community. Often times attempting to stretch a line to the rear of a bldg is more time consuming and manpower intensive due to various factors potentially encountered. This can lead to a greater delay in getting water as oposed to taking the traditional route via the front door. While I may sound conventional I strongly feel there really is no alternative with the 1st handline. It would probably be easier to stretch a line to a window venting fire and operate from the front yard, but we still go in the front door to fight a bedroom fire, I feel the bsmt scenario should be no different. Good discussion though, keep it going.
Be Safe,
Comment by Paul J De Bartolomeo on April 12, 2009 at 10:35am
Jason, I have yet to read the report but from what I have heard is that they were in the bsmt when the collapse occured, they did not fall through the floor into the bsmt. This may or may not be accurate, I am waiting on clarification. In any event I agree a walk around may of shed additional light on conditions at this fire and can be a very valuable size up tool. I am a big proponent of stretching in the front door for a bsmt fire as opposed to going from the walk out door or the bulkhead style door. I feel the first line can maintain a position at the top of the stairs and protect against extension while searches are being conducted and occupants are fleeing the dwelling. If conditions permit this line can then move in on the fire. If not, this line can stand fast at the top of the bsmt stairs while a second line attacks the fire via the alternate egress point. Many times this turns into a 2 line fire where the first line acts as a protection against fire extending up the bsmt stairs and taking the remainder of te dwelling, while the 2nd line gets the main body of fire.
Comment by Nick K.D Chaleunphone on April 11, 2009 at 9:55pm
In the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, We use a system call the mentoring process. We have a PSQ book that everyone goes through in order to get qualified. Such as the US Coast Guard Boat crew training system. In the Boat crew training system, everyone takes a class in the Boat crew and then after the class, they get their skills they learn validated by a mentor who signs off the member on the skills that the US Coast Guard has. One the member get's the required mentor sign-offs. They request for a QE (Qualified examiner) for a dockside oral exam and an underway check ride. Once they pass the QE, and the mentor sign offs are in order, they can get certified by the US Coast Guard as a qualified and competent Boat crew member.

The training process that works in the US Coast Guard, I bet they can be applied to any fire or EMS dept out their.

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