Officials examining SCBA in Conn. firefighter LODD

They're working to determine if firefighter Kevin Bell's SCBA was working properly and if his air tank was full when he entered the burning building

The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — Investigators working to determine how Hartford firefighter Kevin Bell died in a house fire last month have turned some of their attention to his breathing apparatus, examining whether it was working properly and whether his air tank was full when he entered the burning building, sources said.

Bell died while fighting a fire inside a Blue Hills Avenue home on Oct. 7. The tank and breathing apparatus have been sent for testing. A law enforcement source said officials are also hoping to determine if Bell's tank was full when he went into the burning house.

Hartford fire Chief Carlos Huertas has named a board of inquiry to review the department's actions. He has appointed deputy fire chief of training Daniel Nolan to lead the seven-person board.

"We want to do a detailed and thorough investigation to get the most accurate information about what happened that night," Nolan said Tuesday. The rest of the board is made up of the fire marshal, two deputy chiefs, two union officers and a representative from the employee assistance program.

Nolan said that the state fire marshal's office, Conn-OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health were also conducting investigations. The state fire marshal's office took Bell's equipment – including the tank, mask and connecting hoses — and sent it for testing, sources said. The breathing apparatus is among multiple areas of focus, the sources said.

A review of radio communications during the fire shows that Bell was in the house less than 12 minutes when another member of Engine 16 called a mayday. The firefighters had entered the house through the front door and went up the stairs where it's believed the fire originated, according to dispatch recordings.

Calls were made at least twice by a firefighter on Engine 16 asking firefighters in the burning house if they needed water. Both times a firefighter responded that they were not ready. It is unclear if their hose was ever charged with water.

Bell was found unconscious in a room to the right of the stairwell. He was discovered missing after all firefighters were ordered out of the building and Deputy Chief James McLoughlin went to each company to ask for a head count.

When it was discovered Bell was missing, a team from Tactical Unit 1 was sent back into the burning house. The team found him in less than 30 seconds and removed him from the house, according to dispatch records.

Bell was unaccounted for in the house for more than eight minutes, records show. All told, Bell was in the house for less than 21 minutes, according to dispatch records.

Firefighters are supposed to have about 30 minutes of air in their tanks when they begin fighting a fire, although the actual amount of time a firefighter has can vary based on how hard he is exerting himself and how much air he is taking in with each breath.

The tanks are equipped with a warning device that signals the firefighter when there is only five minutes of air left. The law enforcement source said "it appears a lot of air was used in a short amount of time."

Bell, 48, was a six-year veteran of the department. A second firefighter, Jason Martinez, 29, was seriously injured when he jumped out of a second-story window. He suffered burns on 10 percent of his body and has been in the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital, where his condition is fair, according to a hospital spokesman.

The Hartford Fire Fighters Association also sent an email update from Martinez's family to city firefighters Tuesday.

"Jason has been making great progress on his recovery. He is up and able to move around and is busy working on his recovery," the email said. "He is very determined to make a complete recovery and is focused on his therapies."

The state medical examiner has not issued a cause of death in Bell's case saying that additional information, including the results of a toxicology test, are needed. The law enforcement source said one piece of information the medical examiner is awaiting is the equipment report.

A cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

Nolan said the board of inquiry will be meeting regularly over the next six months, reviewing evidence, including reports that have been filed by officers and acting officers at the scene, television video footage and interviews with the more than 70 firefighters at the fire. .

"The primary purpose is to get answers about how this tragedy took place," Nolan said. "We want to prevent anything like this from taking place in the future."

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