The family of a Hartford (CT) Firefighter killed in the line of duty has surprisingly settled its wrongful death lawsuit against the city for $350,000. Firefighter Kevin Bell, 48, died in that house fire of October 2014. The family filed suit in November 2015, saying that it wanted answers about why Bell was allegedly “left behind” for more than eight minutes even though a mayday call had been made by the Lieutenant after losing contact with FF Bell in the house. It should be noted that the radio system historically functioned poorly , and that day when the brief and barely audible “mayday” was transmitted by the Lt-after realizing FF Bell was missing-it was unheard by anyone on the fireground. Unfortunately this leaves many questions unanswered such as responsibility, department and company failures leading up to the loss, training and much more. By settling this could allow some to think that blame belongs in areas and to individuals that, whereas perhaps, it doesn’t.
BUT NOW…“The case was happily settled against all parties and it will now be withdrawn,” said Jeffrey Ment, an attorney representing Bell’s estate. The two sides agreed not to comment on the details of the settlement.
Hartford Corporation Counsel Howard Rifkin said that the settlement is about more than money. “As part of the settlement agreement, the City will work with the Bell family to determine an appropriate way of honoring Kevin Bell,” Rifkin said.
The suit previously named Fire Chief Carlos Huertas, Deputy Chief James McLoughlin, who was in charge of the fire scene on Blue Hills Ave., and Lt. John Moree, Bell’s partner, who entered the building with him.
An HFD internal board of inquiry reviewed the fire incident (NIOSH and State Police reports are pending) and found numerous predictable problems and other issues, including that there was a failure to properly search the room in which Bell was trapped…and that the IC and other firefighters did not (or could not) hear any mayday calls.
Once they entered the building, the RIT team found FF Bell within 30 seconds. His leg was tangled in a piece of wrought-iron furniture and his air cylinder was empty, according to the report. The report also identified a lack of training for command officers and other mistakes in firefighting and life-saving procedures. It also found equipment out of service, SCBA’s empty and much more at company levels.
The GOOD news is that current Fire Chief Reginald Freeman, who took over the job in February, has implemented new procedures and is leading the HFD is a positive direction to address the issues highlighted in the report.
NIOSH has not completed its final report on FF Bell’s death, but a preliminary report found that one of the alarms that should have alerted Bell that his air tank was running out of air was not working properly. The CT state fire marshal’s office has not released their findings of its investigation.
In addition to the wrongful death claim, the lawsuit alleged that “sometime prior to Oct. 7 Lt Moree abandoned (Bell) in a fire where they were together on a hose line.” Bell confronted Moree about the “inappropriateness of that behavior so personal animus had developed between the two,” according to the suit.
The suit also alleged that fire personnel deliberately spread inaccurate rumors that FF Bell had cocaine in his system with “the apparent goal of taking the focus off the embarrassing failures of command structure, equipment maintenance irregularities and the lack of state mandated training provided to their firefighters,” and allowing the blame to fall on the victim. Toxicology reports should be able to clarify any unfortunate rumors related to that. Why not release them?
It’s is beyond tragic that FF Kevin Bell lost his life. It’s nice the city and the family settled-but so many questions remain related to the responsibility at ALL levels as far as what happened at that fire. It is our opinion that no assumption should be made as far as what happened, how it happened and who was responsible (His Officer? The IC? FF Bell? Other FF’s? Other Officers?) until the facts are permitted to be presented. Allowing the TRUTH and FACTS on all aspects of this tragic fire would be the best way to honor the life of FF Kevin bell-so that what went wrong at this fire never goes wrong again at the HFD-or any other FD’s fire.
INTERNAL REPORT: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-report-on-hartford-firefighter-kevin-bell-s-death-20150807-acrobat.html