15 Years Later: Remembering 3 FDNY Firefighters

Firefighter Nation - December 18, 2013

On Dec. 18, 1998, three FDNY firefighters—Lt. Joseph P. Cavalieri, James F. Bohan and Christopher M. Bopp—were killed while trying to locate a fire in a high-rise building in New York City. Today, 15 years after their deaths, we remember and honor them.

Joseph P. Cavalieri, Lieutenant, Age 42
• Appointed to FDNY Dec. 12, 1983
• Appointed Lieutenant Feb. 24, 1996; assigned to Battalion 39, working in Ladder 170

James F. Bohan, Firefighter, Age 25
• Appointed to FDNY July 14, 1996
• Assigned to Ladder 170 Oct. 3, 1998

Christopher M. Bopp, Firefighter, Age 27
• Appointed to FDNY Oct. 15, 1995
• Assigned to Ladder 170

The Incident
According to the NIOSH report, on Dec. 18, 1998, at 0454 HRS, several fire companies responded to a fire at a 10-story, Class 1, masonry high-rise building for the elderly located at 17 Vandalia Ave. The fire had been burning for 20 to 30 minutes.

As firefighters arrived in front of the building, a call was received from Central Dispatch that a female resident in the apartment next door to the fire apartment was trapped in her apartment and needed help.

Several firefighters entered the lobby area, and some took the stairs to the ninth floor, while others took the elevator to the ninth floor. Cavalieri, Bohan and Bopp—all assigned to Ladder Company 170 in Canarsie, Brooklyn—along with the lieutenant on Engine 290, took the B-stairs from the ninth floor to the 10th floor, and entered the hallway, in search of the fire, while four firefighters on Engine 290 were flaking out the hoseline on the ninth floor and in the stairwell between the ninth and 10th floor in preparation for hookup. The lieutenant on Engine 290 eventually left the 10th floor to help his crew drag the hose to the A-stairwell, where they met up with firefighters on Engine 257, who assisted them in stretching their line and hook-up on the ninth floor.

Cavalieri, Bohan and Bopp proceeded through the center smoke doors in search of the fire. It is believed that while the men searched for the fire, the fire had vented itself out the apartment window, allowing the wind (15-mph, gusting to 26 mph) to escalate the fire in the apartment.

It is also believed that the victims found the fire apartment, with the door partially opened, allowing smoke and hot gases to enter the hallway. They then opened the door fully, the wind pushed the fire and extreme heat in the apartment into the hallway, and a flashover occurred, exposing the victims to extreme radiant heat that potentially elevated their body core temperature.

The last radio transmission from the victims was a mayday call.

When the victims were found, all were unresponsive; they were treated at the scene and taken to the hospital where they were pronounced dead by the attending physician.

According to the medical examiner, the cause of death listed for all three firefighters was smoke inhalation and burns.

NIOSH Recommendations
This building had sprinklers in the hallways, lobby and basement; however, the valves on the first floor were closed, which shut off the water for the upper floors. NIOSH investigators concluded that to minimize similar occurrences, municipalities, city housing authorities and building owners should:
• Ensure that buildings equipped with sprinkler systems are operational; and
• Consider early warning systems for timely notification of fire

NIOSH investigators also concluded that to minimize similar occurrences, fire departments should:
• Ensure communications on the fireground are utilized and recorded, especially between firefighters in IDLH situations and incident command; and
• Ensure standpipe hookup is on the floor below the fire floor.