Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Two separate settlements totaling $4.1 million for the families of
two Buffalo firefighters who perished in an August 2009 fire at a
Genesee Street building are expected to be approved by the Common
Council in early April.
Survivors of the younger firefighter,
Jonathan S. Croom, 34, are set to receive $3 million that will go to
supporting the children he left behind. The family of Lt. Charles W.
“Chip” McCarthy, 45, is to receive the balance, $1.1 million.
was engaged to be married and the father of an infant daughter and a
second child his fiancée was expecting. McCarthy was married and the
father of three adult children.
The settlements also include
health insurance coverage for Croom’s children – Johanna, 4, and Johnny,
3 – and guarantees from the city to implement safety procedures at fire
scenes to try to prevent the same type of confusion that contributed to
the deaths of the firefighters, according to attorneys representing the
McCarthy had gone back into the rambling building –
which housed a deli, basement warehouse and apartments – believing that a
victim was trapped in the basement, and he fell through the floor of
the deli. Croom went back inside in a desperate effort to save McCarthy
and also fell into the burning basement.
are traditionally about money damages for surviving family members.
Here, we went further and insisted on multiple safety procedures for
firefighters in the future,” said Thomas H. Burton, attorney for the
“To its credit, the city has implemented many of these procedures and agreed in writing to do so for others.”
John T. Loss, attorney for Croom’s children, said the settlement protects the firefighters’ children and other firefighters.
Croom was a hero firefighter, and his legacy will not only be
protecting the financial future of his children, but the safety of his
fellow firefighters,” Loss said.
Safety changes sought by the families of Croom and McCarthy include:
Following the “two in, two out rule,” which means that firefighters do
not enter or leave a burning structure without a partner.
an accountability officer to keep track of firefighters entering and
leaving “serious fires,” freeing the commander at the scene to maintain
an overview of the entire situation.
• Making numerous equipment enhancements such as upgraded radios, new self-contained breathing apparatus and thermal cameras.
of an accountability officer and failure to enforce the “two in, two
out rule” were cited in the lawsuits. Burton said that those federal
Occupational Safety and Health Administration work rules, adopted by New
York State for the protection of first responders, were not adhered to.
That allowed the families to sue, even though the job of firefighter
has an assumption of risk.
Loss added that one of the most
troubling aspects of the deaths was that the Fire Department had lacked a
standard operating procedure for extinguishing basement fires. That is
now in place.
“We hope that by training with uniform, written
directions in fighting below-grade incidents, we avoid such a tragedy in
the future,” Loss said. “The equipment enhancements with the radios
will help to locate more quickly and accurately missing firefighters.
Jonathan Croom was missing well over an hour.”
In a letter to City Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball, Burton stated:
while we cannot un-ring the bell for the tragedy which accompanied this
incident, maybe things have now changed for the better for firefighters
going forward. If we can at least accomplish that, it is a good thing
The proposed settlement packages were filed Monday with
the City Clerk’s Office by the corporation counsel’s staff and are
expected to be reviewed by the Council’s Claims Committee on March 27.
The committee then will forward the proposals to the entire Council for
action April 2.
After Council members take action, the settlements
then go before State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia for his
“The judge and his law clerk pushed these cases
along and were instrumental in their resolution,” Loss said, adding
that retired State Appellate Court Justice Jerome C. Gorski served as a
mediator during the negotiations.
Loss and Burton also are
continuing lawsuits against the owner of the building, Saleh K.
Abdullah, for failing to properly maintain the structure in accordance
with city building and fire codes.
Inadequate electrical lines
inside the Super Speedy Deli overheated and ignited floor joists in the
ceiling of the basement, causing the blaze, fire officials have said.