Alarm on Hartford Firefighter Kevin Bell’s air tank didn’t work, federal report says
HARTFORD – An alarm which could have alerted firefighter Kevin Bell that his breathing apparatus was running low on air the day he died in a fire was not functioning properly, a federal report concluded.
The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) inspected Bell’s breathing apparatus and the apparatus of another firefighter, whose identity was not revealed in the report but is likely Jason Martinez, in the weeks after the October 7 fire that killed Bell and left Martinez with third-degree burns. Fox CT obtained the report on Friday via a Freedom of Information Request.
The NIOSH report says that the air cylinders for each unit did not have any air in them when they arrived for testing. Recently, the office of the chief medical examiner revealed that Bell died as the result of an accident, specifically, “asphyxia, due to lack of breathing gas.” This was probably because his tank ran out of air.
Last year, emails obtained by Fox CT revealed that there were two empty back-up air tanks at Engine 16 before the Blue Hills Avenue fire occurred.
However, on Wednesday, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra told reporters it was too early to make conclusions about what lead to Bell’s asphyxiation and Martinez’s injuries.
“Once this full report is completed then we can immediately, immediately, figure out what we need to do,” Segarra said.
The report describes, in detail, the condition of each breathing apparatus as well as the results of tests performed on each one. It states that, “Unit #1 failed the Remaining Service Life Indicator Test.” The report goes on to explain that a secondary alert meant to warn a firefighter of low air in the tank did not “operate within the parameters” of the test.
According to a statement from the Hartford Fire Department, the malfunctioning secondary alarm would not have been noticed by Bell.
“Firefighter 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,” the statement read.
Both units were manufactured in 2004, according to the report, and exhibited slight signs of damage and wear and tear. The air cylinder for Unit 1 was properly retested in 2013, the report stated. However, there was no retest label on Unit 2 and investigators concluded it “could not be pressurized safely.” Also, Unit 2 “did not meet the requirements of the NIOSH Positive Pressure Test.”
NIOSH said it is proposing “no further action on its part at this time” and the units were returned to the Hartford Fire Department. If used again, the report states that the units must be “repaired, tested, cleaned, and any damaged components replaced and inspected.”
The investigation into Bell’s death has been going on for more than five months.
According to Hartford Fire Department radio traffic, Bell was discovered missing after a mayday call asking firefighters to exit a house fire on Blue Hills Avenue. He was finally taken out of the house after roughly 20 minutes inside.
The Hartford Fire Department is still awaiting a report from the state fire marshal’s office and other investigative bodies to officially determine what happened.
Despite the slow-moving investigation into Bell’s death, and a slew of highly publicized alcohol-related incidents, Mayor Segarra said it was too soon to determine whether the department needs a leadership change.
“I am confident that we are doing the best that we can at this point to continue the ongoing management of the department, the assessment of his performance, and the assessment of whether, at some point, leadership needs to change,” he said.