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3 Pittsburgh firefighters remembered on 25th anniversary of Valentine’s Day blaze

The 1995 fire killed Capt. Thomas Brooks, Firefighter Patricia Conroy and Firefighter Marc Kolenda

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By Laura French

PITTSBURGH — Feb. 14, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the Bricelyn Street fire that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters.

Pittsburgh Fire Capt. Thomas Brooks, Firefighter Patricia Conroy and Firefighter Marc Kolenda were killed on Feb. 14, 1995, when they became trapped in the basement of a burning home after a stairwell collapsed, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. All three firefighters died from asphyxiation.

Brooks, 52, was the father of two children and a 13-year veteran of the department, according to the Associated Press. Conroy, 43, was part of a volunteer team that offered counseling to firefighters and other first responders; she was the first female firefighter in the department’s history to be killed in the line of duty. Kolenda, 27, was a second-generation Pittsburgh firefighter who had wanted to be a firefighter since childhood and was engaged to be married at the time of his death.

Six family members residing in the home escaped without injury, according to WPXI. Gregory Brown, then 17, was later convicted of three counts of second-degree murder for setting the fire to his mother’s home in order to collect insurance money. Brown has since been granted a new trial and was released in November 2016. He still proclaims his innocence in the incident.

Darlene Buckner, Brown’s mother, was found guilty of insurance fraud and received a probation sentence.

The fallen firefighters were found to have had a ruptured hose and their breathing masks may have malfunctioned, according to WPXI. The incident led to changes in training and upgrades to equipment at the Pittsburgh Fire Department.