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Widow of N.Y. FF files lawsuit, claims husband was ‘left behind inside’

Buffalo Firefighter Jason Arno’s widow targets the FD over training, equipment as well as the contractor


Photo/Buffalo FD Facebook

By Maki Becker
The Buffalo News

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Eight months after Buffalo Firefighter Jason Arno died inside a burning Theatre District building, his widow has filed a lawsuit against the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Fire Department, the company that owned the building and the contractor doing masonry work with a blowtorch on the building when the fire started.

In the 30-page lawsuit filed Wednesday in Erie County Supreme Court, Sarah-Elizabeth Tierney’s attorneys laid out a long list of failures they said caused Arno’s death inside 743 Main St., a three-story brick building that housed a costume shop, on March 1.

In July, a federal fire investigation concluded that the massive blaze was started when two contractors were using a blowtorch and a leaf blower to melt ice and snow away from the exterior of the building. A spark from the blowtorch got inside a doorframe that had been boarded up with plywood and ignited a fire in bags of costumes that were stored inside, it concluded.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said then that the actions of the workers were “stupid” but “not criminal” and that no criminal charges would be filed.

The civil lawsuit said Arno died an agonizing and terrifying death alone inside the burning building. He “suffered conscious pain and suffering, pre-death terror and fear of impending death, as well as serious and grave bodily injuries,” the court documents said.

He left behind his wife, Tierney, and their daughter, Olivia, now 4.

The building, now razed to the ground, was owned by a company run by former Congressman Chris Jacobs.

According to the complaint filed by attorney Charles S. Desmond II, of Gibson, McAskill & Crosby, workers with JP Contracting, which specializes in masonry work, were using a propane tank with an attached propane torch and a leaf blower and that caused the fire to start between 7:25 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. The lawsuit accuses their employer of “negligence, carelessness and recklessness.”

The contractor is accused of failing to have a proper fire extinguisher or fire pail within easy reach and also for violating safety standards.

The suit also names 743 Main Street, the limited liability company owned by Jacobs, and claimed the company did not have a valid certificate of occupancy or the proper permits for the work being done, failed to have a monitored fire protection system and didn’t have proper or adequate smoke detectors.

In its complaints against the city, the suit said the city didn’t adequately train firefighters in the dangers of working on a warehouse fire, failed to ensure that firefighters used their self-contained breathing apparatus and didn’t provide Arno with a hose of the proper length for the mission.

The suit also said that Arno was paired with another firefighter as they entered the building but that the other firefighter evacuated the building and Arno was “left behind inside the 743 Main Street premises as the sole member of the Engine 2 team.” Arno also lost contact with the hose line.

Fire officials previously described how a backdraft exploded inside the building while Arno and the other firefighter were inside.

Jacobs issued a statement following the filing of the lawsuit.

“My family continues to keep the Arno family in our thoughts and prayers. At the same time, I fully respect the family’s right to take legal action over this awful tragedy,” he wrote. He challenged some of the claims in the suit, pointing out that he had owned the building for just 10 weeks before the fire.

“But now is not the time to challenge these claims,” he said. “I pride myself as being a responsible real estate developer as demonstrated by the success of several buildings and properties on Main Street. My goal was to fully restore 743 Main Street in a similar fashion.”

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