BEAUMONT - A volunteer firefighter from Southeast Texas died Monday night after he collapsed during a training exercise Sunday in Beaumont, according to information provided to KFDM reporter Kalie Desimone by Dennis Gifford, who was an instructor at the training school.
Gifford told KFDM News that Neal Smith, 46, a volunteer firefighter from Atascocita, near Houston, died at about 6:30 p.m. Monday at Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth. Gifford says Smith was surrounded by his family when doctors removed him from life support.
"This gentleman's body temperature got so extremely high it likely caused internal organ damage," Gifford told KFDM News earlier Monday. It's horrible to see and experience."
Smith was an eight year veteran of the department.
Gifford says Smith was taking part in a training exercise Sunday at the BEST complex near downtown Beaumont when he became overheated and collapsed.
The company that manages the complex had nothing to do with the exercise and only made the complex available to the group that organized the training.
The instructor told us Smith collapsed during what's known as the smoke diver drill. It takes place inside a six story building on the training grounds. Instructors fill the building with smoke, according to Gifford, who says each trainee puts on an oxygen mask and bunker gear. The goal is to teach them about personal safety and to understand their limitations in a real fire.
Gifford told KFDM that Smith was on his way down from the six story smoke house early Sunday afternoon when he collapsed. Beaumont EMS paramedics responded and rushed Smith to Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth in Beaumont where he was admitted to the ICU.
Smith's family was at his side when doctors removed him from life support Monday night.
"As tragic as this is, it's really more or less coming down to the strict limitations of the individual," Gifford told KFDM News. "We are going to take a completely new look and see if there is anything we can do to get our individuals to be a little more proactive in their own safety."
Another firefighter from Georgia was also injured Sunday afternoon during the smoke diver drill.
He's made a full recovery.
According to the Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department website, Smith in the past had held the positions of Treasurer and Captain.
His position was Captain at Station 1. He had served as Lieutenant at Station 3, Fire Training Officer (Recruitment) as well as having served on the Board of Directors as the Board's Treasurer since he joined the Department on November 15, 2008.
Smith's training credentials included SFFMA Basic Fire Suppression (Accredited), FEMA ICS-100 (Intro to Incident Command), IS-00700 (National Incident Management Systems), IS-00200 (ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents) and he was the Honor Graduate for the 2008 Recruit Class.
Smith received a Certificate of Appreciation for service during Hurricane Ike and FireFighter of the Month on two separate occasions.
Stay with KFDM and kfdm.com for updates on the story.