Conn. fire lieutenant suspended for setting fire during training exercise, injuring FF
The fire chief said the lieutenant used "bad judgment" when he attempted to make the exercise more realistic with a live fire
The Hartford Courant
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — A fire lieutenant used bad judgment when he tried to make a training exercise more realistic and ended up starting a blaze that injured a fellow firefighter, Fire Chief John Oates said Monday.
Lt. Doug McKeon, a 21-year department veteran, was suspended without pay for 14 days in January and February, according to a disciplinary letter released after a freedom of information request.
“Your unblemished record and many years of positive professional service were considered in contemplating this discipline,” Oates wrote in the letter to McKeon, dated Jan. 16. “However, this level of failure by a Lieutenant cannot be tolerated.”
The town bought property at 1718 Main St. near Fire Station No. 2 as a prospective location for a new station. Before a vacant house on the property was torn down recently, the police and fire departments used the place for training, Oates said.
On Nov. 25, firefighters were in the house, training on hose stretches and searches for fire victims. The department sometimes uses theatrical smoke in such training, Oates said, but McKeon decided to enhance the scenario by lighting two road flares and placing them inside a metal bucket in a bathtub on the second floor, Oates said.
“Bad judgment. Bad decision,” the chief said.
The bathroom caught fire and more resources had to be brought in to douse the blaze, Oates said. Another fire lieutenant suffered a respiratory injury that required medical treatment, he said. The firefighter has since recovered, Oates said.
There was no approved plan for live fire training, which is “tightly regulated and tightly scripted,” Oates said in an interview. Also, he wrote in the letter to McKeon, when confronted with the fire “you failed to immediately recognize the gravity of the situation and asked the Safety Officer to ‘hold up’ on requesting additional resources.”
McKeon’s actions constituted conduct that reflected unfavorably on town service, violated department health and safety policy and “undermines your ability as a Lieutenant to maintain discipline and enforce Department rules and regulations," Oates wrote.
The Occupational Safety & Health division of the state Department of Labor (CONN-OSHA) investigated the incident, but did not cite or fine the department.
In addition to the suspension, McKeon was placed on a one-year probation and is prohibited from conducting multiple company training sessions unless the chief training officer or the shift commander are present.
Oates said McKeon, a firefighter since 1999, “is a good employee. Sometimes good employees make bad decisions.”
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