Bret Richmond Tarver

On Wednesday, March 14, 2001, a report of a debris fire was received by the Phoenix Fire Department Regional Dispatch Center. The caller reported fire in a pile of debris at the rear of a hardware store. An engine company was dispatched to the fire reported by the caller. Based on the volume and nature of the smoke he was seeing as he drove through his district, Battalion 3 ordered additional fire department resources dispatched to assist. Battalion 3 also responded to the incident. The unit that is normally closest to the fire location is Engine 14. Engine 14 became available after the dispatch of the initial units. The captain of Engine 14 added his unit to the incident by computer and informed Battalion 3 of their arrival on the scene. Battalion 3 ordered Engine 14’s crew to enter businesses that back up to the debris fire to evacuate occupants and to determine if fire had spread to the inside of these businesses. Engine 14’s crew searched a barber shop that was adjacent to a supermarket, found it to be unoccupied and clear of fire, and moved on to the next business - the supermarket. When they entered the supermarket, Engine 14’s crew found only light smoke at the ceiling of the main store. The crew moved through the building and entered a storage area. They found heavy smoke and moderate heat in the storage area. They reported this fact to Battalion 3 and went back to the front of the store to get a hoseline from another unit that had arrived at the front of the store. A hoseline was extended to the storage room, and water was applied to the fire. Visibility in the storage area was near zero and the ability to see in the supermarket deteriorated quickly. Firefighter Tarver, a member of the Engine 14 crew, told his captain that he was running low on air in his SCBA and needed to leave the building. The captain gathered his crew together and told them to follow the hoseline out to the exterior. As the two Engine 14 firefighters, including Firefighter Tarver, turned to leave, they became disoriented and ran into a wall. They got back up, turned in the direction that they thought was the correct way to go, and ran into another wall. Somehow both firefighters ended up in the rear portion of the main supermarket space. Firefighter Tarver called for help on his radio. The firefighter who was with Firefighter Tarver became separated from him and later exited the building with the assistance of other firefighters. The Engine 14 captain emerged from the building and looked for the other members of his crew, as well as the engineer of Engine 14. Battalion 3 could see that fire was developing in the supermarket and began to order crews out of the building. Firefighter Tarver heard these radio transmissions and repeated his call for help. The Engine 14 captain heard Firefighter Tarver’s request for help and he notified Battalion 3 that he had two firefighters that were unaccounted for. The Engine 14 captain quickly spoke to the captain of another crew and told him to follow Engine 3’s line to Firefighter Tarver’s last known location. The captain and two firefighters entered the building immediately and followed the hoseline. Visibility in the supermarket had dropped to zero. They came upon Firefighter Tarver. He was lost, out of air, standing on his feet, and calling for help. The captain brought Firefighter Tarver down to the hose line and instructed him to follow it to the exterior. Firefighter Tarver had become incapacitated by the smoke and did not obey the instructions of the captain. Firefighter Tarver crawled a short distance, then stood up, turned, and disappeared in the smoke. The captain and his firefighters were low on air at this point and had to leave the building. When Battalion 3 heard that there were two Engine 14 firefighters missing, he immediately activated two Rapid Intervention Crews (RIC’s). An engine crew and a ladder crew entered the supermarket with extra breathing air equipment to search for Firefighter Tarver and the other firefighter from Engine 14. While the RIC crews were unable to locate the Engine 14 firefighters, they did remove other firefighters from the building. As they left the supermarket, the interior of the supermarket became fully involved with fire. Further entry from their direction was impossible. After much effort, Firefighter Tarver was located and moved into a large storage room. The crew that discovered Firefighter Tarver was relieved by a series of other crews that moved Firefighter Tarver, with great difficulty, to the exit of the supermarket storage room. The movement of Firefighter Tarver was made extremely difficult by the smoke conditions in the storage room, the water that was falling as a result of fire suppression efforts, the heat of the fire, and obstacles that blocked the path to the exit and caught on Firefighter Tarver’s clothing and protective equipment. His removal was further complicated by falling debris, the limited air supply in the firefighters’ breathing apparatus, and Firefighter Tarver’s physical size. Firefighter Tarver was transported to the hospital by ambulance but all efforts to revive him on the scene, in the ambulance, and at the hospital were futile. The cause of death was listed as thermal burns and smoke inhalation. Firefighter Tarver’s carboxyhemoglobin level was 61%. A full report on Firefighter Tarver’s death may be downloaded from the Phoenix Fire Department web site –

Department Information

Phoenix Fire Department
150 S. 12th St.
Phoenix, Arizona 85034

Chief: Alan V. Brunacini

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Bret Richmond Tarver 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: 40 
Rank: Firefighter/Paramedic 
Classification: Career 
Incident date: Mar 14, 2001 17:36
Date of death: Mar 14, 2001 
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: Store/Office