An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Louis Jefferson Matthews


Firefighter Matthews and Firefighter Phillips were members of two different engine companies working on the first floor of a townhouse that was experiencing a fire. Both crews had entered the front door of the townhouse at street level. The fire was confined to the basement. The basement, at grade at the rear of the structure, was opened by a truck company and a small fire was observed. A company officer at the basement door requested permission to hit the fire but his request was denied by the incident commander since he knew that crews were in the building and he did not want to have an opposing hose stream situation. The fire grew rapidly and extended up the basement stairs into the living areas of the townhouse where Firefighter Matthews, Firefighter Phillips, and other firefighters were working. With the exception of Firefighter Matthews and Firefighter Phillips, all firefighters exited the building after the progress of the fire made the living area of the townhouse untenable. On the exterior of the building, firefighters realized that Firefighter Matthews was not accounted for. Firefighters reentered the building and followed the sound of a PASS device. They removed the firefighter with the activated PASS to the exterior of the building. Once outside, firefighters realized that the firefighter that had been rescued was not Firefighter Matthews but was in fact Firefighter Phillips. The search continued and Firefighter Matthews was discovered and removed approximately four minutes later. Firefighter Phillips’ PASS device was of the type that is automatically activated when the SCBA is activated and it worked properly. Firefighter Matthews’ PASS was a manually activated type and it was found in the “off” position. Both firefighters received immediate medical care on the scene and were rapidly transported to hospitals. Firefighter Phillips was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital and Firefighter Matthews died the following day on May 31, 1999. Firefighter Phillips died as the result of burns over 60% of his body surface area and his airway. Firefighter Matthews died as the result of burns over 90% of his body surface area and his airway. Two other firefighters were injured fighting the fire. One of these two firefighters, who suffered burns over 60% of his body surface area, survived and was released from the hospital in late August. At the time of his release, it was not clear if this firefighter would ever return to work. Additional information about this incident can be found in NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation 99-F-21.
photo of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial
Louis Jefferson Matthews was honored on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland and was included in the USFA’s annual report Firefighter Fatalities in the United States.

Department information

District of Columbia
1923 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, District of Columbia 20001

Chief: Donald Edwards

View NIOSH Report

Age: 29
Rank: Firefighter
Classification: Career
Incident date: May 30, 1999 00:16
Date of death: May 31, 1999
Cause of death: Caught or Trapped
Nature of death: Burns
Activity type: Advance Hose Lines/Fire Attack (includes Wildland)
Emergency duty: Yes
Duty type: On-Scene Fire
Fixed property use: Residential

Last updated: June 13, 2012

Watch America’s Tribute to Fallen Firefighters

Honoring line-of-duty deaths in 2019