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Thread: 2 Firefighters Killed In Training Exercise

  1. #1
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    2 Firefighters Killed In Training Exercise

    2 firefighters killed in training exercise

    By Jennifer Ellis

    INTERCESSION CITY, Fla. - Two firefighters were killed this morning during a training exercise in Osceola County.

    Seventeen Osceola County firefighters were training at an abandoned bible college off U.S. 17-92 west of Kissimmee, near the Osceola/Polk County line, when the roof of the building they were training in collapsed.

    One of the firefighters has been identified as Lt. John Mickel, 32. The other firefighter Dallas Beggs, 21, started July 22 with the Osceola Fire Department.

    The 10 a.m. accident occurred at the former Florida Bible College at the corner of Poinciana Boulevard and U.S. 17-92. The school is about 70 miles west of Melbourne.

    The two were separated from the backup crew and were the only two injured when the roof caved in upon them, Osceola County Director of Emergency Services Tad Stone said.

    The college had donated several homes for the fire department to burn for training purposes.

    Firefighters from Osceola County Fire-Rescue and Orlando Fire Department were participating in the standard training, Osceola Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Twis Hoang said.

    One of the injured firefighters was transported to Florida Hospital in Kissimmee and the other was taken to Osceola County Regional Medical Center, Hoang said. Both were pronounced dead at the hospitals.

    "Both were badly burned, and they didn't make it," Stone said.

    Investigators with the state Fire Marshal's office as well as Osceola County Fire-Rescue are at the college now.

    Fire Departments across the nation routinely use live-fire training exercises to train new as well as experienced firefighters.

    "We try to do live fires as much as we can. But really, nothing can prepare you for a flashover," Cecil Cornish, spokesman for Titusville Fire & Emergency Services said after hearing the news. "It's part of the job."

    Firefighters are dying in burning buildings more frequently now than 25 years ago, despite advances in protective equipment, according to a report by a national safety group.

    In 2001, three paid firefighters and nine volunteers were killed during training exercises, according to the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Mass. One fell from an aerial ladder, one died of smoke inhalation during a live fire exercise, one drowned during rescue dive training and nine suffered fatal heart attacks.

    In seven of the last 10 years, fewer than half of firefighters' deaths occurred while they were at fires, said Margie Coloian, NFPA spokeswoman. A quarter of the deaths happened as firefighters were traveling to or from fires or other emergencies.

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    Officials Investigating Training Fire Accident

    Officials investigating training fire accident

    The Associated Press
    Posted July 31, 2002, 2:58 PM EDT

    KISSIMMEE -- Investigators were still working on a theory Wednesday about how two Osceola County firefighters were fatally burned in a training accident.

    Dallas Begg, 20, and Lt. John Mickel, 32, died Tuesday at separate hospitals after the exercise at the defunct Florida Bible College west of Kissimmee.

    Fellow firefighter trainees pulled Begg, on the job just eight days, and Mickel from a flaming back bedroom of the vacant concrete-block house, but desperate efforts to save them failed.

    Firefighters on the scene said they assume that whatever happened came so quickly that the 11-year veteran and the trainee didn't have time to run or call for help.

    A flashover, in which smoke and gases get so hot that the air burns in an instant, was thought to be a possibility.

    Officials gave few details, but an Osceola County firefighter said Mickel and Begg went in first during the morning exercise, after instructors set a fire in the corner of the back bedroom, using hay and wood pallets as fuel.

    Seventeen firefighters from Osceola and Orlando were taking part in the training, which began about 9 a.m.

    Their mission, as is typical in such exercises, was to find and rescue a mannequin simulating a trapped person.

    The smoke was so heavy in the three-bedroom house that firefighters could not see one another, but they communicated via radio, said the firefighter, who asked not to be identified because of the investigation.

    It's unclear, firefighters said, why Mickel and Begg failed to push red panic buttons on their radios or otherwise signal that they were in trouble.

    State Fire Marshal's Office investigator Juan Bailey declined to provide details of the accident until investigators piece together the chain of events that began when the training exercise got under way.

    Bailey said his agency would confer with other departments and speak with the Medical Examiner's Office before disclosing events that led to the deaths.

    There's always the possibility of deadly accidents when fighting fires, but the lessons learned through intensive training are supposed to keep them to a minimum.

    That's what makes the deaths of the two men even more shocking for those who put themselves into danger.

    "It's a difficult situation for the fire service," Orlando firefighter Steve Clelland said. "To train firefighters, you have to put them in a fire. No matter how safe you try to make it, there's potential for injury.

    "It's like police officers practicing for a shootout with live rounds

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    Fire Probe Focuses on 'Flashover'

    Fire probe focuses on 'flashover'

    By April Hunt and Susan Jacobson | Sentinel Staff Writers
    Posted August 1, 2002

    KISSIMMEE -- It's a firefighter's worst nightmare: a superheated blast of 1,200-degree air that incinerates anything -- and anyone -- it touches.

    Called a "flashover," it is triggered when a fire in an enclosed area reaches a temperature hot enough to melt steel. Everything in the room bursts into flames. Those who have seen it say it looks like spontaneous combustion.

    "In a flashover, there is no way to survive," said Rita Fahy of the National Fire Protection Association.

    Osceola fire Lt. John Mickel and rookie Dallas Begg may have unwittingly walked into a flashover Tuesday when they entered a cinderblock house at the former Florida Bible College -- its interior ablaze from bales of hay and stacks of wooden pallets deliberately set afire -- during a training exercise.

    Mickel, 32, and Begg, 20, never pressed their "panic buttons," an indication to some experts that they encountered the quick -- and lethal -- rush of intense thermal radiation that overwhelmed their protective gear and scorched their skin with a heat thousands of times more intense than a blistering sunburn.

    The state Fire Marshal's Office had been expected to release on Wednesday the results of its probe of what happened at the abandoned house that was torched for a search-and-rescue exercise.

    But the announcement was delayed because officials said they hadn't received the preliminary cause of death from the Medical Examiner's Office. Juan Bailey with the state Fire Marshal's Office said he planned to meet with the families of the dead men before going public "as a courtesy and respect" to the firefighters.

    "We are treating this incident with kid gloves, because we want to be sensitive to the families," Bailey said.

    Longtime firefighters, meanwhile, were convinced Begg and Mickel were killed by a flashover.

    How does it get so hot?

    Flashovers occur in rooms with lots of fuel. They happen because the room is enclosed, without ventilation.

    Whatever is burning emits gases, which heat up and create smoke near the ceiling. Once that smoke reaches about 1,200 degrees, it literally bursts into flame. That is when the flashover occurs. Everything in the room explodes into a ball of flame that consumes furniture, paint and anything else that's flammable. Humans can't withstand the intense heat.

    "If it is a flashover, you have zero time in that room," said Nelson Bryner, an engineer with the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, which studies fires with the National Institute of Standards and Safety.

    Bryner said he has seen flashover experiments where a piece of paper across the room from a fire will burst into flames, meaning the heat from the smoke alone is able to generate a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit.

    "The radiation levels are so high, the energy coming through your fire suit can be lethal in a short period of time," Bryner said. "It's hundreds of times more intense than a bonfire that you couldn't get close to, because of that radiating heat."

    Even a firefighter's protective gear is useless. The only way to combat flashovers is to cool them down or ventilate the room. That's why firefighters routinely chop holes in the roof of a burning building, or break a window. The openings allow heat and combustible gases to escape, fire experts said.

    Between 1992 and 2001, 13 firefighters died in flashovers, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Begg and Mickel would be the first firefighters known to have been killed by a flashover in a training mishap if the flashover scenario is borne out by the investigation.

    Fifty-one firefighters died during training exercises between 1996 and last year, records show.

    Mickel and Begg discussed the search-and-rescue training before they entered the three-bedroom house, said Osceola fire Lt. Joe Long, who was at the training session. "John said, 'You're going to stay with me, search this room,' " Long said. "They had a game plan."

    Experts said it's not unusual to send a rookie such as Begg into a burning house, especially when he was accompanied by an experienced superior such as Mickel. Begg previously had entered a burning structure at the fire academy.

    Some officials said it's too dangerous to use abandoned buildings for training.

    Bruce Piringer, director of the Fire and Rescue Training Institute at the University of Missouri, said using abandoned houses for training is much more dangerous than using structures specifically built for that purpose. Instructors have more control in specially built structures where they can simulate conditions firefighters would encounter in a real fire, including flashover, he said.

    "Firefighting intrinsically is a dangerous business," Piringer said. "In training, you want to control as many of the variables as you can."

    But Orlando Assistant Fire Chief Kathy Miller said burning vacant structures offers valuable training. SixOrlando firefighters took part in Tuesday's training exercise with Osceola.

    "It's extremely important that we take the opportunity to train in structures that are similar to what we're responding to," Miller said.

    Gathered at the county's emergency-services office Wednesday, off-duty firefighters consoled each other and talked fondly of the two men, a newcomer and an 11-year veteran who worked his way up to lieutenant.

    Services for Mickel will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 1603 N. Thacker Ave., Kissimmee. Begg's funeral is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday at Gaylord Palms Convention Center. Visitation for Begg is 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 2441 Fortune Road, Kissimmee.

    April Hunt can be reached at or 407-931-5940. Susan Jacobson can be reached at 407-931-5946 or

    Contributions can be made in person or mailed to:
    Mickel-Begg Memorial Fund
    c/o First National Bank
    920 N. John Young Blvd.
    Kissimmee, FL 34741

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    Report on deaths suggests 'flashover'

    Report on deaths suggests 'flashover'

    By April Hunt and Susan Jacobson | Sentinel Staff Writers
    Posted August 2, 2002

    Contributions can be made in person or mailed to:
    Mickel-Begg Memorial Fund
    c/o First National Bank
    920 N. John Young Blvd.
    Kissimmee, FL 34741

    KISSIMMEE -- Severe smoke inhalation and thermal burns consistent with a "flashover" triggered by intense heat killed the two Osceola County firefighters who died in a training exercise this week, authorities said Thursday.

    Osceola County fire Lt. Joe Long said the scorching heat appears to have burned through their breathing equipment, forcing them to inhale the superheated air. Their protective suits burned away, and some of their equipment disintegrated.

    "It was obvious they didn't have a chance or warning," Long said.

    Firefighters had been speculating since the accident Tuesday that a flashover doomed rookie Dallas Begg, 20, and Lt. John Mickel, 32. In a flashover, a room gets so hot that everything in it spontaneously ignites, making survival impossible.

    State fire investigators for a second day Thursday delayed releasing their findings on the accident, saying their investigation is still under way. But the cause of death released by the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner's Office gave credence to flashover suspicions.

    3,000 expected

    Meanwhile, up to 3,000 people from as far away as Canada are expected to attend separate services for Begg and Mickel, including firefighters and others from around the state and country.

    Off-duty firefighters from the Orlando, Orange, Lake, Polk and Brevard fire departments are expected to staff Osceola's stations so the local firefighters can attend the services.

    Family and friends have received cards and calls from all over the country, and Station 93 in Four Corners, where Begg and Mickel worked, has been inundated with gifts, food and visits.

    "It has been a tremendous outpouring," said Keith Tester, a family friend of Begg, who died in only his second week on the job. "It's very encouraging to the family to see what a brotherhood the firemen are."

    Begg's memorial service on Monday evening has been moved to the former Tupperware Convention Center. A burial at Osceola Memory Gardens will follow the 5:30 p.m. service. The family will then receive people at Gaylord Palms Convention Center, on Osceola Parkway and International Drive South, Kissimmee.

    Mickel's funeral will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 1603 N. Thacker Ave., Kissimmee. A viewing will be from 5 to 9 p.m. today at Osceola Memory Gardens Cemetery, Funeral Home and Crematory, 1717 Boggy Creek Road, Kissimmee.

    While colleagues and family remember their loved ones, other work must be done to make sure the men are not forgotten.

    Benefits for families

    The county has yet to submit paperwork to the U.S. Justice Department to apply for the Public Safety Officers' Benefit Program. The department must determine whether the training deaths meet the criteria of a line-of-duty-incident. If so, each family will receive $254,228.

    The county has already submitted paperwork to the state for the $50,000 awarded to the families of Florida firefighters who die on the job. Both men would qualify for the money.

    Mickel's widow should receive an additional $50,000 from a voluntary life-insurance policy. He also qualifies for a county death benefit of twice his annual salary, or $106,248.

    Begg's widow, however, may not be so lucky. His probationary period wouldn't have ended until October, so the contract with the county's insurer calls for no death benefits to be paid.

    'Do the right thing'

    The county has asked for the insurance company to waive the requirement. His widow would receive the equivalent of one year of his pay, or $27,678.

    "You just have to do the right thing," Osceola Commissioner Chuck Dunnick said. "These guys made a commitment to go into a burning building. We have to make a commitment to honor those people when they make the ultimate sacrifice."

    Begg and Mickel lost their lives during a search-and-rescue exercise at the former Florida Bible College. The location west of Kissimmee has been used to train firefighters for several months.

    Begg and Mickel were overcome in a back bedroom where bales of hay and wooden pallets were set afire for the practice session.

    In a flashover, burning material emits gases that create smoke. Once the smoke near the ceiling -- the hottest part of the room -- reaches about 1,200 degrees, it bursts into flames that consume everything.

    April Hunt can be reached at or 407-931-5940. Susan Jacobson can be reached at 407-931-5946 or

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