New report raises questions about fatal 2014 Back Bay fire

A new report is raising questions about a fire in the Back Bay that killed two firefighters in March 2014.

Both a federal report and internal report from the Boston Fire Department were released Thursday.

Both reports say the fire started was caused by welders installing a railing, and fueled by intense winds.

The federal investigation finds fault with the Boston Fire Department.

The federal report states that there was so much heat from the fire, two separate hoses burned. It also mentions a lack of training, lack of fire hydrants on a private street nearby and a series of hazards in the building itself.

However the report from the Boston Fire Department says the fire took a sudden and dramatic change. 

The local report goes into detail about the critical moment a basement window gave, stating:

"This created a pressurized flow path of superheated fire and gases driven by the high winds. This sudden and dramatic deterioration of conditions trapped LT Walsh and FF Kennedy, and because the hose had been burned through, the water never reached the nozzle."

Lt. Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy died in the fire.

They were among the first to enter the building, trapped in the basement, their hose being one of the ones that burned.

The OSHA report provides 15 recommendations, including have the Boston Fire Department:

  • Follow standard procedures for sizing up risks
  • Develop training and tactics for wind-driven fires
  • Ensure adequate staffing for deploying firefighters in tightly populated places

The Boston Fire Department has already launched a back to basics training program.

A news conference further discussing this information will be held Thursday.

On Thursday, Michael Kennedy’s mother released a statement: 

Earlier this week, I learned the outcome of NIOSH’s investigation into the tragic fire that claimed the lives of my son, Firefighter Michael Kennedy, and Lt. Edward Walsh nearly two years ago. 

It was a tragic event that profoundly affected — and continues to affect — the lives of so many, it is my hope that these findings can help ensure that something like this never happens again. 

In my opinion, the long history of inadequate funding by the previous administration to the fire department played a role in this tragedy. The ongoing lack of funding across the country for the fire service must be remedied in order to enable many of the NIOSH suggestions implementation.

And in particular, please note recommendation number 15. Today’s thermal technologies must be adapted to fire attack hose immediately. According the [sic] WPI Fire Engineering Program fire attack hose has had no thermal improvements in 100 years. 

Ultimately, I hope this reminds all Bostonians of the critical need to ensure the safety of our firefighters who put their lives on the line for each one of us every day. 

Kathy Crosby-Bell

Kristen Walsh, wife of Lt. Walsh, also released a statement: 

I would like to thank the Boston Fire Department’s Board of Inquiry and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for their thorough investigation of the Back Bay fire that took the life of my husband Ed and Fire Fighter Michael Kennedy. The NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation confirmed what we already knew: that heroic efforts were taken that day and that civilian lives were saved. 

When told that someone was in one of the basement apartments, Ed and Michael did what they were trained to do. They went into the basement to perform a search and to find the source of the fire. Their bravery and dedication to the job gave them the courage to go into a situation that most would avoid. And while Ed would tell you that he was just doing his job, to our family he will always be a hero. For the sacrifice that he made on 3/26/14, but also for the person he was outside of the fire department. A loving husband, father, son and brother, Ed was someone who was always there for his friends and family. My hope is that we honor Ed’s sacrifice by making sure that our Fire Fighters [sic] are protected on the job. That the recommendations in the report are put into action so that there is proper staffing in place and that changes are made to the fire attack hose so that thermal degradation is not a problem at future fires. 

We owe it to Ed, Michael Kennedy and all of the fire fighters on scene that day to make sure that the City never has to face a tragic fire like this again.

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