Federal and local officials today released reports on the 2014 fire that killed two firefighters by trapping them in the basement with a hose that had been burned through, leaving them with no water.
Both the reports by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and a Boston Fire Department board of inquiry provide timelines and other details of the events that effectively doomed Lt. Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy only minutes after they entered 298 Beacon St. from the front and went down stairs to the basement in search of the fire source - which turned out to be a shed in the rear of the building.
Both reports say sprinklers in the 19th-century building might have dampened the fire enough to prevent problems - and that the building's "balloon framing" construction and building modifications over the decades left the structure particularly vulnerable to the sort of rapid fire, buildup of flammable gases and explosions that trapped the two firefighters and seriously injured more than a dozen others. A window that gave way in the heat served as a sort of chimney that led to even more intensification of what became a nine-alarm fire, they say.
NIOSH concentrated on steps the fire department should take to prevent a recurrence, including bolstering response to fire scenes and "sizing up" of scenes before firefighters rush in - in this case, the report found the initial responders split up due to the presence of residents still in the building, leaving nobody to hook up one hose or check the rear of the building, where the fire had started. BFD should also conduct training in how to handle wind-whipped fires - gusts of up to 69 m.p.h. off the Charles made the fire particularly difficult to handle - the federal agency said.
The BFD board of inquiry also took aim on the cause of the fire to begin with: "Unpermitted and improperly performed welding" at a neighboring building that sparked a fire in a wooden shed attached to 298 Beacon that spread to the brownstone itself:
The Department should evaluate the current application and approval process for all hot work permits issued to contractors. A City of Boston Ordinance should be established that requires a certification for any person wishing to perform hot work within the City of Boston that provides stringent penalties for violators.
Last April, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office concluded criminal charges were not warranted because while the workers were careless, they weren't "reckless" - the Massachusetts standard by which criminal charges could result.
BFD board of inquiry report.