February 3, 2005
BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A nonworking smoke alarm and the lack of a thermal-imaging camera might have been factors in the death of a Jackson County firefighter, Michigan State Police investigators say.
Detective Sgt. Ken Hersha of the State Police fire investigation unit said Summit Township fire Capt. Scott Thornton, who died Jan. 20 while fighting a fire, also chose to ignore an alarm that told him his air supply was running low.
“It’s quite loud. There’s no mistaking it,” Hersha told the Jackson Citizen Patriot for a report Wednesday.
The findings are the first independent probe of the fire. The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration is conducting a separate investigation.
Investigators said that Thornton and Firefighter Brian Ledford entered the burning home together.
They were trying to find the source of the fire, which was difficult because the smoke alarm had been disabled while the home was being renovated.
When Ledford’s air-supply warning sounded, giving him five minutes to exit, Thornton guided Ledford to the doorway. Thornton then re-entered with Firefighter Brian Terry, who reported hearing Thornton’s air-supply alarm.
Thornton called in a distress signal, but he was using a channel on his radio that could only be heard from central dispatch, so it took longer for his colleagues at the scene to find him. Half-inch-thick double pane windows also hindered the rescue effort. An autopsy found that Thornton died of smoke inhalation.
A thermal-imaging camera, which Summit Township had been planning to purchase this year, could have targeted the smoldering fire’s hot spots and helped Thornton find his way out, Hersha said.
Hersha said Thornton’s death was caused by an unfortunate mix of factors.
Summit Township Fire Chief Michael Hendges said Thornton wasn’t the type to disregard safety warnings.
“Obviously, Capt. Thornton thought he could stretch his air supply a little longer to try and find the source of the fire … with tragic results,” Hendges said.
Thornton, 39, was married and had two children. He was the first firefighter to die on the job in Jackson County in 23 years.