CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Nearly a year after the death of Chesterfield Fire & EMS recruit TyVaughn Eldridge, the department released an extensive report, revealing that the cause of the young man’s death was heat exhaustion.
According to the report, Eldridge applied to be a firefighter in Chesterfield County in February of 2020, and began his first day as a recruit on June 28, 2021. His first three days on the job consisted of new employee orientation and documentation.
The Fatal Run
Organized physical training (PT) for Career Recruit School #63 began on July 1, 2021. The report stated that scheduled PT for that day consisted of some stretching, followed by a two-mile run at a pace of 9:45-10:00 minutes per mile.
Approximately 16 minutes into the run, at 8:19 a.m., Eldridge reportedly stopped running and fell to the ground. Witnesses said that he 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 paramedic care began.
The report detailed that the run took place while the outside temperature was approximately 79 degrees. Witnesses described it as a cloudy, but humid day.
“Firefighter Recruit TyVaughn Eldridge, who was recently employed by our department, was just beginning recruit school, suffered a medical emergency in the course of our physical training in the recruit school,” Chesterfield Fire & EMS Chief Loy Senter said. “He was transported to a local hospital and, sadly, passed away several days later. It’s certainly a tragic loss for our department, and our hearts and prayers continue to go out to the family.”
Following extensive treatment in the ICU, Eldridge died at 6:43 a.m. on July 3, 2021, his 26th birthday.
It was the department’s fifth line-of-duty death in its history and the first that occurred during training activities.
“Vibrant young man who’s just started his career, his dream job, lost in a minute, and we certainly don’t want to see that happen again,” Senter said. “This focus is on the family and preventing another similar event in the future.”
Following Eldridge’s death, the Chesterfield Fire & EMS Department launched an internal investigation into what preceded the tragedy that unfolded that day, and what could be done in the future to prevent any other recruits from losing their lives during training.
Although the department noted that it did not have authority to access Eldridge’s complete medical records, Senter stated that the young recruit was medically cleared for training on May 13, 2021. The report also stated that Eldridge had self-reported his participation in physical activity multiple times per week.
“He was so young and in generally go health, and [his death] was certainly a surprise to us all,” Senter said. “We may never fully know all of the details of what precipitated the event. There’s probably still some more to learn.”
In addition to Chesterfield Fire & EMS’ internal investigation, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry notified Chief Senter on July 29, 2021 that an inspection was being conducted by that office into the workplace death of the young recruit. Additionally, Senter noted that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is currently investigating Eldridge’s passing, and is expecting to release the result of that analysis within the next year.
“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions as to why this occurred in the first place,” the fire chief said. “But we certainly have developed some good recommendations going forward. But it does take time.”
The recommendations in the report detailed continuation of many of the practices already in place in the Chesterfield Fire & EMS Department. However, one new recommendation stated that when a chase van is used during recruit PT, which follows the trainees on some of their runs, it should be supplied with EMS equipment.
“I don’t know if it would’ve made any difference at that point [for Eldridge]. But we certainly feel that that recommendation is valid,” Chief Senter said. “If we’re going to have that training van out there following the recruits during their first run of the recruit academy, then it does make sense to have that gear.”
Senter also noted that EMS equipment was not far from the recruits during the run where Eldridge collapsed, but that it could be beneficial if there were to be another type of emergency during training.
“We try to reduce the risk, whether we’re responding to incidents or whether we’re in training, as much as possible,” the fire chief said. “It’s impossible to reduce all those risks because what we do, by its very nature, is dangerous.”
8News also reached out to the Henrico, Hanover and Richmond Fire Departments, which assisted with the investigation into Eldridge’s line-of-duty death.
While fire officials noted that there is no national standard for physical fitness for their training, officials from Henrico County told 8News that they do not use a set mile time for fire and EMS recruits. Instead, recruits are instructed to run 1.5 miles at their best pace, which will then be compared to subsequent runs over the course of the academy.
Since Eldridge’s death, Chief Senter said that the Chesterfield Fire & EMS Department has worked to increase the amount with which a fitness trainer works with recruits to provide as much information as possible ahead of the academy, so that they are aware of good nutrition, hydration and other tactics for optimal health.
“Without a doubt, the worst situation for a fire chief is to suffer a line-of-duty death of one of his or her firefighters, and it’s always a big concern,” Senter said. “When an incident like this happens, it is devastating to the entire department and, in particular, for the fire chief because you’re ultimately responsible for the safety and effectiveness of all your crew.”
According to his obituary, Eldridge was survived by several family members and his college sweetheart.
“Ty was only with us as a member of our department for several days,” Senter said. “But I think he, in his passing, he taught us all a lot about why we’re here, why we’re in this job, and how we need to remember that we can lean on one another when times are tough.”
You can read an executive summary of the report, including recommendations, below: