missing fire

1999 Lake Worth, Texas church fire

The Lake Worth Church Fire occurred in 1999 in Lake Worth, Texas, United States. On February 15, 1999 firefighters in Lake Worth, Texas and surrounding towns were alerted to a fire in a church on Roberts Cut Off Rd in the area of Cowden St just before 11A.M. The roof of the church would eventually collapse trapping 5 firefighters inside, 3 of which would die before they could be rescued. 4 firefighters were also on the roof performing ventilation operations when it collapsed below them.

The Fire

Early stages

The fire started in a shed to the northeast of the church. Heavy winds caused the fire to spread to the roof area of the church. Inside the fire spread throughout the enclosed attic area. The fire was noticed by a police officer in neighboring Samson Park, and he reported to his dispatcher. The dispatcher then notified the Samson Park fire department under the impression that the fire was in their jurisdiction. At the same time a Lake Worth water department worker noticed the fire and notified his dispatcher who in turn notified the Lake Worth fire department. With all of the notifications, 6 fire departments in total were dispatched to the fire.

The first 2 arriving engines deployed a total of 4 13/4 inch handlines, with 3 being deployed on the interior of the building. A crew of 3 (2 from Lake Worth and 1 from Samson Park) made there way to the east end of the church from the entrance in front of the church on the west end. They went down the center aisle toward the sanctuary in the southeastern corner behind the altar. The fire was located in the attic area, and the starting extinguishing it, with the help of 2 more firefighters from the River Oaks fire department.

The collapse and rescue

As the interior crews started their interior attack of the fire, 4 firefighters made their way to the roof to begin ventilation operations. While the ladder crews were venting the roof, it collapsed below them. One firefighter landed next to the main entrance after falling through the roof. Another firefighter held onto a wall and was pulled up by the other 2 firefighters that were on the only part of the roof that didn't collapse.

Initially only 2 firefighters were reported as being missing. The rescue team reported that they could not enter the building due to the worsening conditions. They were instructed to enter from the hall located on the southeast corner of the building. After entering through the hall, they located 2 disoriented firefighters inside. Another accountability check was then ordered after the 2 were removed from the building. This check concluded that there were still 3 trapped inside.

The three fire fighters were found later as the fire was extinguished. Two of them were in a short corridor near the altar and the third was found in one of the offices on the east side of the church.

Origin and cause

The fire started in the shed outside the building to the northeast. The fire was reported as incendiary in nature, with no suspects being arrested as of 2001.


Based on the fire investigation and analysis, the NFPA has determined that the following significant factors may have contributed to the deaths of the three fire fighters:

  • Lack of a proper building/incident size-up (risk vs. benefit analysis)
  • Lack of an compatible accountability systems among mutual aid departments
  • Absence of an established rapid intervention crew (RIC)
  • Lack of use of Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS)
  • Lack of subdivision in combustible attic space


Actual Time Elapsed Time Activity
10:42 AM 0:00 Time of call
10:44 AM 2:00 Samson Park Engine E225 & Lake Worth Engine E210 arrive.
10:52 AM 10:00 Roof collapse. Second alarm sounded.
11:00 AM-12:00 PM 18:00-1.18:00 Fire extinguishment continues as search for three missing fire fighters begins.
1:00 PM 2.18:00 Support agencies begin to arrive (Arson Task Force, Red Cross, counselors)
2:53 PM 4.11:00 Recovery of victims begins.

The firefighters

Name Age About
Phillip Dean 29 Career firefighter with Fort Worth. He was volunteering at the River Oaks VFD at time of death. Left behind a wife, and a child. Was active in the church and community.
Brian Collins 35 Career firefighter with Fort Worth. He was volunteering at the River Oaks VFD at time of death. Left behind a wife and 3 kids. Active in fire safety and the community.
Garry Sanders 20 Volunteered for the Samson Park Volunteer Fire Department. Being the youngest victim, he was only a firefighter for a few years.


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