Published: September 14, 2005
A Fire Department analysis of a
fire in a Bronx building last January in which six firefighters were forced to
jump from the fourth floor – killing two of them – has found that mistakes,
communication failure and unfamiliarity with new equipment may have contributed
to the tragedy, say fire officials briefed on its contents.
and another one, on a second fire that same day in Brooklyn in which a
firefighter was killed – making it the department’s deadliest day since 9/11 –
will be released today, the Fire Department said.
The department will
also release audio recordings of radio transmissions between firefighters and
fire officers from the Bronx fire. The report on the first fire, details of
which appeared yesterday in The New York Post, concluded that the mistakes
hampered the firefighting as several companies attempted to douse a blaze on the
third floor of the Bronx apartment house on Jan. 23, the officials said.
Lt. Curtis W. Meyran, 46, and Firefighter John G. Bellew, 37, died in
the Bronx, while Firefighter Richard T. Sclafani, 37, died in the fire in
Brooklyn after he was trapped in a basement looking for survivors.
Recommendations touch on the failures that undercut the rescue effort,
and the authors – a panel of five fire chiefs – suggest a number of steps,
including improved evacuation training, the use of personal escape ropes, better
discipline, better preparation to deal with water loss and putting weather
forecasts on daily fire schedules.
In the Bronx blaze, the firefighters
who jumped from the building had gone above the fire, to the fourth floor, to
look for people who might have been trapped, as firefighters from Engine Company
75 covered them.Downstairs, Engine Company 42 attacked the fire in the
At some point, the hose to the third floor began
to sputter, and the company mistakenly believed the line had burst, the
In fact, the line had more likely become kinked, the
investigation concluded, but the consequences were the same. Its water cut off,
Engine Company 42, on the third floor pulled back from the fire, and Engine
Company 75 came downstairs to replace the firefighters.
At that point,
the investigators concluded, the six men from Ladder Company 27 and Rescue
Company 3, operating on the fourth floor, should have been pulled back, too,
since they were no longer covered.
The flames burst through the ceiling
into the fourth-floor apartment, keeping the firefighters from leaving by the
door and forcing them out the window. Two died when they jumped, and the other
four were critically injured. Engine Company 42, which had lost pressure, tried
too late to return to the fourth floor.
Officials said that one of the
engine companies may have been unfamiliar with a new pumper truck that was used
to relay water. In most cases, pumper trucks simply hook up to a hydrant outside
a fire. But that day, the closest hydrant had become frozen, so firefighters set
up a relay from a hydrant farther down the streets, using two fire trucks.
The investigation concluded that firefighters might not have understood
how the new equipment worked when used in relay.
The fire focused
attention on personal safety ropes, which the department began to phase out in
1996 but continued to issue to some. Two firefighters that day used a single
rope to escape. The investigators found that all would have been better off if
they had had ropes. The department has said that next month it would begin
supplying all firefighters with a rope escape system designed to allow them to
descend safely from windows during a fire. A Fire Department official said that
the families had received copies of the fact-finding report yesterday. Reached
at his home, Firefighter Joseph DiBernardo, who was injured in the Bronx fire,
said of the report: “We did what we had to do. Hopefully, firefighters around
the country can learn from it.”
He said that he had heard tapes of the
events that day that will be released along with the reports, and added that he
believed things he had said over the radio were not included in those
Investigators found that communication difficulties that day had
not been caused by equipment failure but by incorrectly relayed information.
They also found that firefighters on the fourth floor, knowing that the company
providing water cover was withdrawing, determined that conditions did not
warrant their leaving their floor.
While critical of the mistakes, the
report, like other operational analyses, does not recommend discipline for
anyone, the officials said.
Fernanda Santos contributed reporting
for this article.