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Texas Church Fire


On February 15, 1999 fire broke out at a church in Lake Worth, Texas. It led to the death of three fire fighters when its roof collapsed and trapped them as they were trying to put off the fire from inside the church. This was a few minutes after varied fire fighter departments arrived at the scene to extinguish the fire. The fire was reported to have started in an adjacent shed and spread rapidly to the upper floor of the church because of wind. A police officer from Samson Park spotted the fire and reported it to his boss. The message had within no time reached different fire fighting departments which responded by sending its staffs to the scene. Lack of compatible accountability check among the crews was noted as one of the factors that led to death of the three fire fighters. The incidence led to fire fighters changing their methods of responding to fireground incidences.

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A fire that erupted in Lake Worth, Texas was one of the worst fires to have ever affected a church. The fire in the single-storey building that acted as a church led to the death of three fire fighters after the roof of the church collapsed and barricaded them when they were trying to fight it. The fire had emerged from an adjacent storage shed. Presence of wind led to the fire spreading rapidly into the upper floor of the church. As fire fighters struggled to put off the fire from inside the church, its roof collapsed trapping five of the fire fighters. Other four fire fighters who were at the top of the building escaped narrowly. As people tried to assist those who had been trapped, they managed to rescue two fire fighters before the fire became wild for them to contain it (Duval & Comeau, 1999, p. 1).

How the fire began

The fire is believed to have started form an adjacent storage which was located at the northeast corner of the church building. During the eruption, there was strong wind which made the fire spread rapidly to the upper floor of the church before it was noticed. As pastor was cleaning the church, a boy came and reported that the church had caught fire. Just before the boy had reported to the pastor, a police from Samson Park had noticed it and reported to his boss. He notified Samson Park fire department as he thought the fire had come from there. An employee from water department in Lake Worth had also spotted the fire and informed his supervisor through radio call. In return, the supervisor reported it to Lake Worth fire department. This led to total of six different fire departments arriving at the scene. They all came with different fire fighting facilities (Duval & Comeau, 1999, p. 1).

Fighting the fire

The first fire department to arrive was Lake Worth. Its machine was deployed to attack the fire from the front of the church. The nest was Samson Park and its machine was deployed on the Cowden Street. Both Samson Park and Lake Worth sent two handlines to assist in fighting the fire. Handlines from Lake Worth were deployed inside the church as well as one handline from Samson Park. Saginaw Fire department sent an aerial tower which facilitated in accessing the roof of the church for ventilation. River Oaks Fire Department responded by supplying fire fighters with water from a close hydrant. Fire fighters from both Lake Worth and Samson Park had managed to fight the fire and made a progress towards the east portion of the church. They noticed that the fire had spread up to the upper floor and they decided to extinguish it. Two fire fighters from River Oaks also came to assists them. This made the number of fire fighters inside the church reach five. Four of them managed to access the roof of the church and stated building up the ventilation. After one of the fire fighter removed covers from the roof monitor, he reported to have seen light smoke emerging from the roof. The smoke continued increasing with time. Before they could complete developing the ventilation, the roof collapsed. One of the fire fighters fell into the main hall of the church while the other was left hanging by his fingers at the rim of the collapsed roof (Duval & Comeau, 1999, p. 2). The one who fall in the main hall managed to get the exit and survived with minor injuries. One of the others decided to help the one who was hanging at the edge of the collapsed roof while the other three rushed to the tower ladder.

Death and casualties from the fire outbreak

As the roof collapsed, there were still five fire fighters within the church who got trapped. They were in the southeast corner of the building next to the wall that divided the fellowship hall. According to accountability check performed in the scene, it was found that only two fire fighters were trapped in the building. Other fire fighters made an attempt to rescue the trapped through the fellowship hall. As one of them entered the hall, he reported to have seen a door next to the room that those trapped were believed to be in. He managed to come out with two of the five trapped fire fighters without knowing that there were more in the room. After this rescue, the fire became more wild make it hard for the fire fighters to contain it. A second accountability check was conducted where they realise that there were three fire fighters missing. Two of the missing fire fighters were from River Oaks fire department while the other one was from Samson Park. As they continued extinguishing the fire, they found two of the trapped fire fighters in a small collider that was close to the altar while the third one was in one of the church offices. After the incident, state and local fire marshals decided to take the matter in their hands and investigate what caused the death of the three fire fighters (Ellensburg Daily Records, 1999, para. 2).

Factors that led to death of the three fire fighters

According to state and local fire marshal investigation, they came up with various reasons that may have led to the death of the three fire fighters. One of their reasons was lack of proper building size-up. The investigation team highlighted lack of enough space in the building as one of the reasons that led to the death of the three fire fighters. The corridor and office they were found in were too small. As smoke filled these rooms, they suffocated make it hard for them to breath. Lack of a consistent accountability check among thee fire fighting departments was another factor that led to their death. Initial accountability check had suggested that there were only two fire fighters missing from the entire group. The accountability system used did not account for all fire fighters. This led to fire fighters only rescuing two of their colleagues when they accessed the room they were in through the fellowship hall. Had the group had a uniform accountability check system, they could have managed to know the exact number of fire fighters missing. Lack of rapid intervention crew also contributed to the death of the three fire fighters (Ellensburg Daily Records, 1999, para. 3-5). The team had not put in standby a team of fire fighters who could respond to rescue those of their colleagues who happened to be trapped or overwhelmed by the fire. All the crew present at the scene were busy extinguishing the fire. This made them tired to an extent that they could not respond to any emergency. Team members did not have Personal Alert Safety System (PASS). This is an alarm system used by fire fighters when they get overwhelmed by fire. The sound of the alarm alerts other members that there is danger thus making them respond quickly to rescue the victim. Among the fire fighters who arrived at the church, no one had the alarm. This made it hard fort them to understand that some of their team members had been trapped inside the church.


Lake Worth church fire incident led to the fire fighting departments learning a lot of things when it come to fire fighting process. There are numerous complexities experiences in events of fireground. This requires commanders in such incidences to be well prepared. Some of the complexities keep on changing thus calling for fire fighters to regularly review their preparedness mechanisms to align them with these changes. Lack of preparedness and knowledge among fire fighters who responded to the incidence cost the life of five of their members. Fire fighting departments understood the need for compatible accountability check. This is imperative especially when different fire fighting departments combine effort in fighting fire. Lack of compatible accountability check led to the team failing to recognize the exact number of their members that were missing. Need for PASS among fire fighters was also understood as well as ensuring that there is a rapid intervention crew standby to respond in case of emergency. Absence of these protective measures had been identified as some of the causes of fire fighters fatalities in events of fire outbreak.

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Duval, R. F. & Comeau, E. (1999). Church Fire: Lake Worth Texas. Web.

Ellensburg Daily Records. (1999). Church fire kills three when while fighting blaze. Web.

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