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Conn. firefighter died after SCBA ran out of air

Kevin Bell was killed in a house fire on Oct. 7; cardiac hypertrophy was also listed as a contributing factor in his death


The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — The office of the chief state medical examiner ruled Thursday that Hartford firefighter Kevin Bell died because his tank ran out of air while he was fighting a house fire on Blue Hills Avenue.

Medical Examiner James Gill has ruled Bell’s death an accident caused by lack of “breathing gas.” The death certificate states that Bell’s self-contained breathing apparatus ran out of air while he was fighting the fire. It also lists cardiac hypertrophy as a contributing factor in his death.

Bell, 48, was killed in a house fire 598 Blue Hills Ave. October 7, becoming the first city firefighter in 40 years to die in the line of duty. Firefighter Jason Martinez was also badly burned in the fire and leapt from a second floor window to escape the flames..

Bell, a six-year veteran of the department assigned to Engine 16 at 636 Blue Hills Ave., was in the house less than 12 minutes when another member of the department called a mayday, according to radio transmissions,

He was discovered missing after all the firefighters were ordered out of the building for a head count and was unaccounted for in the house for more than eight minutes, records show.

When it was discovered that Bell was missing, a team from Tactical Unit 1 was sent back into the burning house and found him in less than 30 seconds. Bell was found in a room on the second floor to the right of the staircase.

Bell had been in the house for less than 21 minutes, according to records. An air tank is rated for 30 minutes of air but there are a variety of factors that go into how long a firefighter’s air bottle lasts, including level of exertion or how much air is taken in with each breath.

Bell was responsible for carrying a hose up to the second floor and putting water on the fire.

In the aftermath of his death the state fire marshal’s office, Conn-OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted investigations and the breathing apparatus he was wearing was sent to its manufacturer for testing.

Two days before Bell’s death an internal fire department email revealed that an inspection of his engine company’s equipment found numerous safety issues, including empty air tanks.

The medical examiner’s office did not issue a cause of death or toxicology report initially because of the question about the breathing apparatus.

Shawn Bell said Thursday that the family had no comment, citing the ongoing investigation into his brother’s death.

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