Hartford firefighter Kevin Bell died in October after running low on air while battling a massive blaze and a federal investigation has found that a low-air alarm on his breathing tank failed a test after the fire, but Hartford officials say the alarm activated.
"Fire Fighter Bell’s SCBA Unit failed to meet the acceptable minimum operating range for activation of 1035-1215 psi by a deficit of 9 psi. However, the alarm still activated. This deficiency would not have been noticed by the user. It was confirmed by personnel operating at the scene, that FF Bell’s low air alarms activated and alerted those members to leave the building," according to a statement from the Hartford Fire Department.
A source close to the investigation provided NBC Connecticut with the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety report that was submitted to Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas on Jan. 28.
It documents the testing of two Scott Health and Safety AirPak 4.5 self-contained breathing apparatus units for the Hartford Fire Department, including the one Bell used, and says Bell’s equipment failed the remaining service life indicator test secondary alarm.
The alarm is a safety feature to alert a firefighter that there is just enough air to get out of the building, but it went off with less air than it should have.
The other unit tested failed a positive pressure test, according to the report. It’s not clear who the other device belonged to.
The medical examiner determined that Bell, a 48-year-old husband, father and the cousin of retired Fire Chief Charles Teale, died due to the lack of breathing gas. Cardiac hypertrophy is also listed as a contributing condition.
A statement from the Hartford Fire Department says the equipment maintenance division has an ongoing SCBA testing and maintenance protocols.
"Daily pre-use inspections are done by every Department member, and a weekly maintenance and inventory inspection is done at the Company level. If any deficiencies are found, the Air Pac is immediately taken out of service and a replacement is provided," the statement says, adding that the report is just one component of the complete NIOSH investigation that is still pending.
"Upon completion of all internal and external investigations, all findings will be reviewed to be utilized in any changes to policies and procedures to enhance the safety of the men and women of the Hartford Fire Department," the report says.