Report: Firefighter Killed in Hartford Blaze Became Entangled in Furniture

The Hartford Board of Inquiry investigating the October fire that killed one a Hartford firefighter and injured four others released its final report, which determined that Firefighter Kevin Bell became entangled in furniture and was not able to escape the building.

Forty-eight-year-old Kevin Lamont Bell was on the front lines when fire broke out at 598 Blue Hills Avenue in October 2014, and he was among the first to enter the burning building.

The fire pushed hot gas into the attic, which collected, became pressurized in the attic and had no place to escape, officials said.

While evacuating the building, Bell became entangled in furniture inside the building and was not able to get out of the building, officials said.

According to the Hartford Firefighters Association, Bell was critically injured in the blaze and pulled from the burning building in cardiac arrest. He was rushed to Saint Francis Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Officials said this was the worst possible scenario at the worst possible time.

There was also a May Day call made that night that was not received or acknowledged. The lieutenant was able to remove himself from the situation, but did not report that a May Day call was made.  

One policy being implemented is that should anyone hear a call for help that is not acknowledged, that information is shared.

Bell was the first Hartford firefighter to die while fighting a fire in 40 years, according to state records.

Firefighters Jason Martinez, of Tactical Unit 1, and Colin McWeeny, of Engine 14, and Kevin Burke of Engine 5.

On Friday, the Hartford Fire Department added Lieutenant John Moree, of Engine 16, to the list of the people injured in the blaze.

"This tragedy has caused us to look intensely at everything we do and how we do it," Fire Chief Carlos Huertas said during the news conference to release the report. "It has shaken us at our very core and has instilled within us a new focus to continue to make improvements in our department."

In late January, a federal investigation found Bell died after running low on air. It said a low-air alarm on Bell’s breathing tank failed a test after the fire, but Hartford officials said the alarm activated.

Then, In April, the state labor department handed the city of Hartford citations for five serious violations in connection with the fire and Bell’s death.

Those violations included a lack of medical evaluations of firefighters on the line, failure to ensure firefighters wore helmets properly with chin straps, failure to "fit test" members for their breathing apparatus, failure to properly test air bottles that enable firefighters to breathe at a fire scene and failure to require all firefighters to wear protective fire-resistant hoods.

Later that month, officials from the fire department said they had reached a settlement with the state’s OSHA division on the violations.

One of safety changes to come in the wake of Bell’s death was the promise that all Hartford firefighters would receive heat-resistant, flame-retardant fire hoods to cover their faces and necks. Those have since been issued, officials said.

The final Board of Inquiry report will be released at 2 p.m. at the Hartford Public Safety Complex at 253 High Street in the Emergency Operations Center.

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