New Questions Arise in Hartford Fatal Fire Probe - NBC Connecticut

New Questions Arise in Hartford Fatal Fire Probe

(Published Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014)

Engine 16, Kevin Bell's fire company, was the first to arrive at the burning home on Blue Hills Avenue in Hartford on Oc. 7, where Bell lost his life.

Dozens more firefighters also rushed to the scene; among them, Interim Assistant Chief Terry Waller.

NBC Connecticut has learned through multiple sources in the city of Hartford that Waller arrived even before any of the deputy chiefs. Those sources in the city say it is protocol for the ranking officer to take control of the fire scene, but we have learned that Waller never assumed command.

The Troubleshooters obtained audio recordings from the radio transmission that night.

New Questions Arise in Hartford Fatal Fire Probe

[HAR] New Questions Arise in Hartford Fatal Fire Probe
NBC Connecticut has learned through multiple sources in the city of Hartford that an interim assistant fire chief arrived at the scene of the fatal blaze on Blue Hills Avenue Oct. 7 but did not assume command.
(Published Friday, Oct. 31, 2014)

"Command to all units. Command to all units. Bail out,” said the incident commander, who sources have identified as recently promoted Deputy Chief James McLaughlin. “All units come out of the building now."

Sources said McLaughlin assumed command of the scene, even though a higher-ranking officer was present. McLaughlin ordered the bailout after firefighter Jason Martinez jumped from a second-floor window to escape. Martinez suffered critical injuries that night but was released from the hospital Thursday.

What appeared to be lost in the chaos moments before was a faint call for help.

"Mayday," is audible on the recording.

The Hartford Fire Department held a news conference Thursday morning in response to our Troubleshooters investigation into the fire probe. Department spokesperson Capt. Helene Lynch said the State Fire Marshall's Office, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are all conducting separate investigations.

Lynch said state police investigators took statements from every firefighter on scene at 598 Blue Hills Avenue. The Troubleshooters asked if that includes one of the key witnesses that night: Martinez.

"I don't if the interview has taken place as of yet, but it is scheduled to happen," said Lynch.

NBC Connecticut learned on Thursday that Martinez has taken a big step in his recovery. He has been released from the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital after suffering burns over more than 10 percent of his body and is now home.

In a letter sent to all city firefighters earlier this week, union president Vincent Fusco said Martinez is quote "very determined to make a complete recovery and is focused on his therapies."

As for two other firefighters who were injured that day, Kevin Burke has returned to work with Engine 5 and Colin McWeeny is still healing from burns on his head, but is expected be back on the job at Engine 14 soon.

Lynch said the investigations into the fatal fire will take several months to complete.
 

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