CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Nearly a year after a recruit died while training with Chesterfield Fire, what could have caused his passing is still unknown.
25-year-old TyVaughan Eldridge was just starting recruitment school. On July 1, 2021, he collapsed during a run.
According to the department, Firefighter Eldridge's death was the fifth line-of-duty death in the history of CFEMS and the first during training that included 63 recruit schools conducted over 52 years.
"He was so young and in good health, so it definitely came as a surprise to us," said CFEMS Chief Loy Senter.
CFEMS released findings from an internal report, detailing what happened during training that day. About 16 minutes into the two-mile training exercise, he fell to the ground.
The internal report states: "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 later taken 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 its manner to be accidental.
According to logs and interviews, Eldridge had no reported medical issues prior to the run. Outdoor conditions were said to be a level "green," the safest category in terms of heat and humidity. Investigations into the event within the department, performed by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, showed all safety protocols were followed.
“They did not see any standards were violated, they did not recommend any citations," Chief Loy said.
Now the department is changing some of its policies, working to make sure training teams are equipped with medical supplies. For example, all CFEMS "chase vans," which follow recruits during physically demanding training activities outdoors, should be stocked with EMS equipment.
Other recommendations to the department included documentation of safety practices during PT sessions and an evaluation of individual recruits to identify any potential fitness complications or challenges, prior to beginning any strenuous physical training.
Other departments assisted CFEMS with its investigation. Henrico Fire and EMS said after the investigation, they started using a mobile application that tracks heat and humidity.
"We now use the heat index app to figure out what the heat index is going to be, so you don’t have to guess at two o'clock what the heat index is going to be. We can go on the app and look and plan our day ahead of time," said Douglas Clevert with Henrico Fire.
Other training protocols include "easing" recruits into wearing thick protective gear in the heat, to avoid heat exhaustion.
“It’s impossible to reduce all the risk because what we do by its nature what we do is dangerous. We’re working in very hot environments with a lot of other risks that are there, and it’s almost impossible to eliminate all of those risks," Loy said.
This investigation is still not over.
The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety is conducting its own investigation into the matter. Those findings are expected to come out within the next year.