Va. FD updates policies amid investigation of recruit's 2021 death

Chesterfield Fire and EMS released findings from its internal investigation, and NIOSH is continuing its inquiry


By Leila Merrill

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Almost a year after the death of firefighter recruit TyVaughan Eldridge, 25, an investigation into his death continues, and Chesterfield Fire and EMS has changed some policies.

On July 1, 2021, Eldridge had just started recruit school. He collapsed during a run, WTVR reported.

TyVaughan Eldridge, 25, had no apparent issues before a run that was part of recruit school.
TyVaughan Eldridge, 25, had no apparent issues before a run that was part of recruit school. (Photo/Chesterfield County Fire and EMS)

The department said his death was its fifth in the line of duty and its first during trainings that included 63 recruit schools in 52 years.

"He was so young and in good health, so it definitely came as a surprise to us," said Chief Loy Senter.

While the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety is conducting its investigation, CFEMS released findings from its internal report.

The report states that Eldridge fell to the ground about 16 minutes into a two-mile exercise.

The report continues: "Recruit Eldridge attempted several times to return to his feet and continue the run but was unable to do so, at which point a medical assessment and initial care by the instructional cadre was initiated. This assessment determined that Firefighter Recruit Eldridge needed to be evaluated at an emergency room and an ambulance was summoned."

He was transported to Chippenham Hospital, where he died on July 3, 2021. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond reported Eldridge died from hyperthermia and called its manner accidental.

He reported no medical issues before the run. Outdoor conditions were said to be in the safest category in terms of heat and humidity. And a Virginia Department of Labor and Industry investigation showed that safety protocols were followed.

But the department has changed its policies. All “chase vans,” which follow recruits during demanding activities outdoors are to be stocked with EMS equipment.

The department has other recommendations: documentation of safety practices during sessions, an evaluation of individual recruits to identify any potential fitness issues before beginning strenuous physical training, and easing recruits into wearing protective gear in heat.

Other departments assisted CFEMS with the investigation, and a spokesman for Henrico Fire and EMS told WTVR that it now uses a mobile application that tracks heat and humidity.

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