New York Bill Bars 'Live' Training Victims

ALBANY -- The state Assembly and Senate Tuesday passed a bill that prohibits the use of people to portray victims in fire-training exercises.

The bill, which now goes to Gov. George Pataki for his signature, follows in the wake of the Sept. 25, 2001, death of a 19-year-old trainee of the Lairdsville Fire Department in a training accident, and the conviction of the department's first assistant chief for criminally negligent homicide.

"The vast majority of fire departments know that it is never proper to place people in jeopardy as "victims' in training exercises," said Senate sponsor Raymond Meier, R-Western. "Now this common-sense rule will become law."

"I urge the governor to act swiftly and sign this bill into law before another tragedy occurs," said Assembly sponsor RoAnn Destito, D-Rome.

Bradley Golden of Clinton had been a member of the Lairdsville Fire Department about three weeks at the time of the exercise, held in a vacant farmhouse in Westmoreland. He and other firefighters were in the farmhouse when fires were set, as other firefighters were outside prepared to rescue them.

But the blaze flared beyond expectations. Golden died of asphyxiation, and Lairdsville firefighters Adam Croman and Benjamin Morris were severely burned. The tragedy drew nationwide attention to fire-training practices.

First Assistant Fire Chief Alan Baird III was convicted last year of criminally negligent homicide for his role in planning the "live-burn exercise." His sentence was 75 days in jail and five years' probation.

He has appealed the conviction to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in Rochester, and remains free while the appeal is heard.

Bernard J. Szarek, a member of the Board of Westmoreland Fire District Commissioners, agreed with the region's state legislators that a law is needed "for the safety of the men."

"The bill is good," Szarek said. "Hopefully it will save lives."

Szarek said the use of a live victim is not necessary when a mannequin can simulate one.

"The fire department bought a mannequin," Szarek said. "We use that for practice now."

Szarek said the Westmoreland Fire District only needs one mannequin at the present time.

Lance Croman, Lairdsville fire chief at the time and father of one of the men injured in the training accident, declined to comment on the new bill.

Gary L. Spaven Jr., former Lairdsville assistant chief, was at the scene of the accident.

"(The bill is) a great policy," Spaven said. "It should be nationwide."

Spaven also said New York state should turn National Fire Protection Association guidelines into statewide rules. NFPA is a private group promoting fire safety.

Currently, departments follow U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, and they are often difficult to look up, Spaven said.

"(A rule book) shouldn't have to be one of the things you have to ask for," Spaven said. "Now it just hurts more that half these rules were out there."

Spaven said the bill, however, is an important first step.

"There should be more to come," Spaven said.

Text of Bill

Introduced by Sens. MEIER, HOFFMANN, MALTESE, McGEE, MENDEZ, RATH, SEWARD, VOLKER, WRIGHT -- read twice and ordered printed, and when printed to be committed to the Committee on Finance

AN ACT to amend the executive law, in relation to the training of firefighters under live fire conditions

The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

Section 1. The executive law is amended by adding a new section 159-c-l to read as follows: 159-c-l. Training; live fire conditions. 1. In the training of fire-fighters under live fire conditions no person or persons shall play the role of a victim.

2. For purposes of this section, a live fire condition is any unconfined open flame or device that can propagate fire to a building, a training tower, an acquired structure or other combustible material.

3. A violation of this section shall be punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed one thousand dollars paid for by the fire department conducting such training.