Unanswered “Mayday” Call a Focus of Fatal Fire Probe

Investigators probing the line-of-duty death of a Hartford firefighter on Oct. 7 are taking a close look at the “mayday” call that went unanswered and the fact that fallen firefighter Kevin Bell was low on air before he went down, sources told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters.

Recordings of the radio transmissions reveal that firefighters with Engine 16 worked for nearly 10 minutes to access the second floor of the burning building at 598 Blue Hills Avenue, where the fire broke out.

Sources within the city of Hartford told the Troubleshooters that both Bell and Lt. John Moree received alerts indicating their air supplies were low, despite the fact the air bottles they carried are meant to last an average of 30 minutes and they were sheltered from smoke and flames while trying to get inside the second-floor unit.

Within minutes of entering the second floor, Bell’s lieutenant stopped responding to the incident commander’s requests, the recordings reveal.

Then – a faint mayday call from Moree.

Seconds later, a radio transmission directed all firefighters to evacuate the building. Sources said the emergency bailout came after critically injured firefighter Jason Martinez jumped from a second-story window around the time of the mayday call.

“Command to all units. Command to all units. Bail out,” said the commander, who multiple sources with the city of Hartford have identified as Deputy Chief James McLaughlin. “All units come out of the building now!”

Hartford fire investigators are asking tough questions, including why Bell and Moree ran out of air so quickly and why Martinez was forced to leap from a window to escape, according to sources close to the investigation.

Sources said investigators are examining McLaughlin's decisions, including the call to send a fire hose in the rear of the building, where the flames were heaviest. It was McLaughlin's first time in charge of a fire scene since his recent promotion, multiple city sources told the Troubleshooters.

Fire experts not involved in the investigation said fighting a fire with opposing hand lines, from the front and the back, is unusual and potentially dangerous.

Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas has not returned a request for comment.

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