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Boston Fire Department brings in federal agency for Back Bay fire investigation

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced Wednesday it would be launching a team of four federal investigators to look into the deaths of Lt. Edward Walsh Jr. and firefighter Michael Kennedy, who were both killed March 26 in the nine-alarm fire on Beacon Street. PHOTO BY ANN SINGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced Wednesday it would be launching a team of four federal investigators to look into the deaths of Lt. Edward Walsh Jr. and firefighter Michael Kennedy, who were both killed March 26 in the nine-alarm fire on Beacon Street. PHOTO BY ANN SINGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

In response to the Back Bay fire that took the lives of firefighters Edward Walsh Jr. and Michael Kennedy, the Boston Fire Department called in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Wednesday to conduct an investigation of the event and provide suggestions to prevent future fatalities.

NIOSH’s Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program will analyze all aspects of those fateful hours on March 26 when a routine fire call turned into a deadly blaze due to high-speed wind. They plan to look into the procedures and protocols that were followed, the radio transmissions, other forms of communication and the weather, said BFD spokesman Steve MacDonald.

“Their investigation has nothing to do with the cause or anything,” he said. “They’re looking strictly into the procedures and policies of the firefighters working at the fire, and they’re trying to identify causes that may have led up to the fatalities and make recommendations on how to prevent it.”
MacDonald said the BFD determined the cause of the fire, a welder’s torch, and released the information to the public April 4. This investigation will focus on the events leading up to Walsh and Kennedy’s deaths. Four investigators from NIOSH have already arrived in Boston to begin their work.

Nura Sadeghpour, spokeswoman for NIOSH, said the goal of the FFFIPP is to learn from mistakes made in the past and prevent the same mistakes from being made in the future.

“I would add that structure fire fatalities and cases involving multiple LODDs [line of duty deaths] have always been our highest priority,” she said in a Monday email. “After meeting with the Boston Fire Department last week, the decision to investigate was confirmed and a team is beginning its initial site visits.”

During the investigation process, NIOSH will visit the site to take photos and measurements. They will then review all applicable materials, such as dispatch records, training records, victims’ medical records, structural blueprints and police reports. In addition, they may utilize photographs and videos taken by witnesses.

Sadeghpour said the timeframe for the investigation cannot yet be determined, but MacDonald said they hope to finish the research by fall 2014.

“The federal agency [NIOSH] will give a fresh set of eyes looking at it, so why not take advantage of them,” MacDonald said. “There’s no cost factor involved…we welcome it. We’ll wait and see how the investigation plays out, we’ll look at their conclusions and their recommendations and hopefully prevent this from happening again.”

Several residents said they were pleased to know the fatalities are being used to continually improve the process of battling fires and prevent more tragedies.

“It was incredibly sad hearing that those two firefighters died,” said Danielle Ordon, 31, of Brighton. “It’s so tragic that a normal day at work for them turns into that. So anything they can do to make that as least likely [to happen again in the future] as possible is good.”

Chris Macfarlane, 49, of Charlestown, said he hopes this investigation brings up substantial improvements for the fire department to act upon.

“As a [federal program], this is using tax dollars, so I hope it’s actually useful,” he said. “It’s a waste of tax money if it’s just vague statements, so it needs to be solid, concrete changes that the firefighters can do to make such a dangerous job a little bit safer.”

Irina Chekanov, 56, of Allston, said she hopes this investigation results in useful discoveries that can be applied to a variety of situations that firefighters could potentially face.

“Jobs like that have so many different situations,” she said. “There’s no such thing as a typical fire or a procedure that you can follow step-by-step without any complications. I’m not sure what these people may find or what changes they can make, but hopefully some improvements can come from such a sad event.”

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