NJ LODD Investigation Rips Fire Chief
If you think this incident is bad from the news report, reserve judgement until you have read the entire report. West Deptford should be renamed Lairdsville, NJ.
State report condemns chief in W. Deptford fireman's death
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
By STEVE LEVINE
The state Division of Fire Safety released a scathing report Tuesday on the death of firefighter James Heenan that lays blame at the feet of Heenan's fire chief, John Casciano.
Heenan, a member of the Verga Volunteer Fire Department, died of injuries suffered in a Jan. 1, 2001, house fire at 1669 Atkins Ave. in the Verga section of the township.
Heenan and firefighter James Miller, also a member of the Verga department, entered the house on the first floor, directly above the blaze. Heenan was about six feet into the house when the floor gave way, dropping him into the burning basement. Miller escaped with minor injuries.
The report found that Casciano, the first firefighter on the scene and the ranking officer, did not properly analyze the fire before sending his men into it.
It also says Casciano made a critical error by not using thermal imaging equipment - provided by the state to all fire departments for determining a structure's safety - during "size-up, initial rescue and fire suppression operations."
Casciano made this decision despite the presence of a thermal imaging camera aboard Engine 621 at the scene, according to the report.
Finally, the report says, a decision to introduce a so-called fog stream - water - into the basement, forced fire and superheated gases back down on Heenan after the floor collapsed, causing injuries that led to his death.
Officials with the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, a branch of the Department of Community Affairs, said Casciano did not cooperate with their investigation and had to be subpoenaed for information.ADVERTISEMENT - CLICK TO ENLARGE OR VISIT WEBSITE
Casciano did not return calls for comment.
In addition to alleging negligence at the scene, the state found that of 22 firefighters on the Verga roster, only five members (including Heenan) and one officer were certified to fight fires.
"Miller, who served as back-up for Heenan . . . had not completed basic Firefighter 1 training," the report concluded.
Heenan's widow, Patti, said she was shocked by the lapse in judgment Casciano has been charged with and also at the alleged lack of training in the Verga department.
"They apparently made the wrong call and they cost my boys their father," she said.
Heenan said she and her sons, Jimmy, 19, and Michael, 17, were suspicious about the way the fire was handled almost from the beginning and that they've had little communication with the department since her husband's funeral.
James Heenan, 37, died March 25, 2001. He served 17 years with the Verga Fire Department.
"We haven't heard much from these firemen and that's a disgrace," Patti Heenan said.
She said she has filed a lawsuit against the maker of the turnout gear her husband was wearing but missed a 90-day deadline following the date of the incident to file a tort claim against the township or fire department.
Heenan doesn't believe she will be able to collect damages from the municipality even in light of the state's findings.
Township administrator Gerald White called the conclusions made in the report "jarring" and was shocked to learn that some members of the township's four volunteer fire departments are not properly trained.
"It's a disturbing report to read," White said.
White said while the municipality funds the department, its officers and members do not report to municipal officials.
The report came with a list of recommendations the Division of Fire Safety would like to see implemented statewide in light of the Verga fire and investigation. Among them:
Better maintenance of training and record keeping on training.
Paying more attention to the sizing up of fires from the initial report to the time it is declared under control.
Using thermal imaging cameras regularly during training, sizing-up and search and rescue and firefighting operations.
Not directing water streams from outside a structure inward if firefighters are inside.
Another Question For George or Bones........
How does NJ's training fit into outside certification agencies (NBFSPQ) systems? That would be one way to get certifications that have a solid data foundation.
Let's Make A Deal...................
How about this? You train my politicians, I'll train your Firefighters. :D :D :D
Did the 1st line go in the wrong door?
From the report:
It should be further noted that the basement had an exterior door that was nearly at grade level on the Division C side near the Division B / C corner.
Since the chief's size up showed:
Following this, he proceeded to conduct a scene size-up by walking around the structure, noting that fire was visible from a kitchen window on the Division B side near the Division B / C corner, and also from a basement window on the Division B side near the Division B / A corner.
And the A/C's size up showed:
Both observed heavy fire coming from the kitchen window on the Division B side near the Division B / C corner, and also from a basement window on the Division B side near the Division B / A corner; these reports were consistent with the conditions earlier reported by Casciano.
I'm wondering why they didn't take the 1st hoseline to the ground level door on side C and attack the fire in the basement 1st. That, coupled with taking out the basement window on side B might have helped reduce the vertical extension of the fire. (I can't be certain from the report if those windows had self-vented.)
I understand that in some Cape Cods you don't have exterior basement doors and have to fight your way down an interior stairs, but that doesn't seem to have been the case here. Having the first line go to the lowest fire doesn't put a line between the fire and the occupants who may be sleeping upstairs. That's the only downside I see to this approach.
Separately, I understand Bones' concerns about accurate record keeping at the state level. About 10 years ago, Ohio was loosing or mis-processing 30-40% of all EMS recertifications. State standards are a great idea. However, state rule making and administration is subject to a wide variety of political and beaurocratic distortions.