No criminal charges will be filed in connection with a Boston Fire Department ladder truck crash that claimed the life of a fire lieutenant in January.
Lt. Kevin Kelley, a 30-year veteran of the department, was killed when the brakes on the ladder truck he was riding in failed and the vehicle crashed into a Mission Hill building.
After an 11-month probe, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said that no person or entity bore criminal responsibility for Kelleys death, but recommended that training and maintenance -- two of the "multiple, overlapping factors" in the fatal crash -- be revised to avoid future tragedies.
"Human error, insufficient driver training, the substandard in-house and outside maintenance of Ladder 26, the topography of Parker Hill Avenue and Kelleys self-sacrificing determination to protect civilian lives all combined on that fateful day to send a massive piece of firefighting machinery hurtling toward a tragedy that is still felt almost a year later, Conley said.
Kelley died of blunt force traumatic injuries when Ladder 26 lost braking power during its descent of Parker Hill Avenue on Jan. 9 and crashed into a Huntington Avenue building. At the time, Ladder 26 had been operating for years with a compromised braking system as a result of poor maintenance, officials said. Also, the firefighter behind the wheel that day had not been properly trained in the use of the 22-ton truck's air brakes or emergency retarding system, Conley said.
"A post-collision, stem-to-stern forensic examination of Ladder 26 indicated that every braking device on the truck was compromised to one degree or another at the time of the crash," Conley said.
"The District Attorney's report highlights once again the neglect of the Boston Fire Department, in particular the procurement policies and maintenance of equipment, as well as the lack of proper training of the Boston firefighters," Boston Firefighters Local 718 President Edward Kelly said.
Kelley's family said they were "gratified" that Conley concluded the criminal investigation.
"We will continue to conduct our own investigation and to vigorously pursue available remedies from all parties responsible for Kevin's wrongful and tragic death," Kelley's daughter, Susan, said in a statement.
Investigators considered two potential charges: manslaughter and motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation. The evidence did not support either charge because no repair or maintenance work led solely and directly to the fatal crash and the trucks operator did not know the importance of proper air pressure within the trucks braking system, had not been trained in emergency brake applications and might not have been able to control the truck even with that knowledge because its air reservoir tank was so badly compromised at the time of the crash.
Conley said that another factor in the crash was Kelleys instruction to the driver not to crash Ladder 26 into the cars and light poles lining the street -- a decision that likely saved the lives of pedestrians on both sides of Parker Hill Avenue that day and inside the residences that might have been struck by cars or light poles displaced by a deliberate crash higher up on the hill.
Finally, the topography of Parker Hill Avenue itself played a role. Had the brakes failed on almost any other street, investigators said, the operator may well have been able to control the vehicle without crashing, but the 22-ton truck only increased velocity as it travelled about 900 feet at a 13 percent negative grade.
Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser said the department has taken steps to remedy the issues Conley raised, including increasing driver training and hiring civilian supervisors and mechanics.
"Our goal is to completely professionalize the maintenance department through further civilianization, and we are hopeful that the firefighters' union will cooperate with us to make that happen for the safety of both the public and firefighters themselves," Fraser said.
The department has implemented a program to train apparatus operators how to "properly conduct a daily inspection that meets CDL requirements and national standards."
A fleet maintenance manager, fleet safety coordinator and certified professional mechanics have been hired, Fraser said.
"We have been replacing our apparatus fleet through a long range apparatus replacement program and have already purchased 21 front line pieces of apparatus and two specialty vehicles at a cost of $11.7 million since FY 2007," Fraser said.
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