Arnold Blankenship, III, Second Assistant Chief

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Assistant Chief Blankenship and other members of his department were participating in a training/demolition burn of a two-and one-half story wood frame dwelling. According to the fire chief, the plan for the day was to do small, one room burns to evaluate a saw, and then to completely burn the house. After a series of small fires were extinguished on the first floor of the house, preparations were made for the demolition burn. The plan for the final fire was to ignite the attic, then ignite the first floor, evacuate the house, and allow it to burn completely. Water curtain nozzles were set up on the exterior of the house to protect trees that were in the proximity of the house. Assistant Chief Blankenship went into the attic of the house and used a small garden-type sprayer to distribute diesel fuel in the attic. As fires were ignited inside an attic room, Assistant Chief Blankenship used the sprayer to "accelerate" the fire. With the exception of Assistant Chief Blankenship, all firefighters had left the attic space and were proceeding to the first floor of the structure. A firefighter waiting at the base of the attic stairs for Assistant Chief Blankenship noted fire and smoke coming from the attic. When firefighters reached the exterior of the structure, they notified the fire chief that Assistant Chief Blankenship was missing and possibly trapped. As some firefighters attempted to suppress the fire, other firefighters used a ground ladder to access the second floor of the house in an attempt to rescue Assistant Chief Blankenship. After several attempts, firefighters followed the sound of an activated PASS device and were able to reach Assistant Chief Blankenship. They were unable to remove him as portions of the collapsed roof covered him. Mutual aid firefighters arrived and were able to locate and remove Assistant Chief Blankenship about an hour after the time he was reported missing. He was obviously deceased. The cause of death was later listed as asphyxiation and burns. A Major Incident Response Team from the State Fire Marshal’s Office conducted a thorough review of the incident. The review concluded that there were several contributing factors to Assistant Chief Blankenship’s death. The factors listed were: Assistant Chief Blankenship remained in the attic too long, despite the urging of at least two other firefighters to exit the attic due to deteriorating fire conditions The initiation of several fires simultaneously in the west playroom and the south wing by orders of Assistant Chief Blankenship. The confined space of the attic construction caused the unstable conditions in the attic resulting in raising the ambient temperature; thereby causing volatile conditions in the room where the firefighters were present. The use of atomized diesel fuel through a garden sprayer by Assistant Chief Blankenship directly on a free burning fire in the south wing of the attic resulted in the flash fire that enveloped the attic, and ultimately claimed his life.

Department information

Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company 1, Inc.
P.O. Box 1

Greenwood, Delaware 19950

Chief: Thomas E. Jones

View NIOSH Report »

Arnold Blankenship, III 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.
Age: 27
Rank: Second Assistant Chief
Classification: Volunteer
Incident date: April 30, 2000 09:41
Date of death: April 30, 2000
Cause of death: Exposure
Nature of death: Asphyxiation
Activity type: Other
Emergency duty: No
Duty type: Training
Fixed property use: Residential