Bryan LODD Probe: Confusion, Evacuation Tone Delay

It wasn't until hearing Lt. Eric Wallace's first distress call that a Bryan firefighter realized his ranking officer was no longer behind him following the hose line to the exit.

Moments before that, the firefighter could feel Wallace making contact with his boot or leg as the pair attempted to crawl out of the Knights of Columbus Hall at 11:39 p.m. Feb. 15, 2013.

"I have a low-air alarm, separated from my firefighter. I'm on the hose, on the red hose. I need some air."

Wallace's first call for help came at 11:40 p.m. and is detailed in a 45-page report released Monday by the State Fire Marshal's Office following an investigation into the Bryan fire that killed Wallace and Lt. Greg Pickard and left firefighters Ricky Mantey and Mitch Moran severely burned.

The report provides an explanation as to the cause of the fire and a timeline of what occurred, as well as six key findings concerning issues involving staffing, leadership and communications.

The fire was ruled an accident, caused by a short in a damaged power cord to a pedestal fan.

Crews were dispatched to the fire at 11:19 p.m., and Wallace's engine crew was the first to arrive at 11:24 p.m. and immediately noted flames on the roof of the southeast corner of the building.

Upon making entry, Wallace and another firefighter came in contact with flames that had been concealed in the ceiling and "attacked" them, according to the report.

Minutes later, while in the same room, fire crews observed "fire rolling up a wall and over their heads."

"When the firefighter attacked the fire, the fire blacked out, the visibility immediately turned to zero and the conditions became extremely hot," investigators wrote in the report.

It was then that Wallace instructed the firefighter he was with that they needed to get out and, within a minute, the two were separated.

The firefighter "stopped his exit and told command that he was on the red hose line, couldn't find his lieutenant, and that he had been right in front of him," the report states. The firefighter attempted to shine his light and listen for Wallace, but was unsuccessful and losing air himself.

About 11:41 p.m., the incident commander asked dispatchers to send an evacuation tone, but an emergency tone was sounded instead. It took six minutes for the mistake to be corrected, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the rapid intervention team, led by Pickard, was notified of Wallace's situation and instructed to enter the building and rescue him.

Three minutes later, Wallace made his second distress call.

"Low alarm is off. Please give me air. I'm still on the red hose line."

The incident commander replied: "Follow the red hose line out. Follow the red hose line out."

Wallace responded with what would be his final words: "Negative command, I can't do it. I have stuff fall on the hose line, and I'm disoriented on it. Please send help."

A few minutes later, another lieutenant observed the room engulfed in fire "from ceiling to floor" and "could clearly make out the three [rapid intervention] team members dragging Lt. Wallace toward the door."

Shortly afterward, after the team was asked for a status report and didn't respond, other crew members were able to get Pickard and his team members out of the building.

At 12:08 a.m., Wallace was taken out of the hall.

Autopsy reports showed Pickard died as the result of heat injuries and smoke inhalation, while Wallace was killed by a structure collapse caused by the fire.

"The final analysis of this incident does not suggest that either of the firefighters who lost their lives, or any of the surviving members of the Bryan Fire Department, failed to perform their duties as trained or as expected by their organization," the report states. "It does delineate findings and recommendations that, when taken as a whole and appropriately applied, can help ensure that a similar result will not occur again."

Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor declined to comment about the report Monday, but scheduled a Wednesday press conference to discuss the findings.

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©2014 The Eagle (Bryan, Texas)

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