BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) – A federal investigation into a house fire last summer that killed two firefighters has determined that city fire officials failed to effectively respond to mayday calls.
The report Wednesday by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that several factors contributed to the deaths in Bridgeport. It notes that an incident safety officer and rapid intervention team were not readily available on scene, and that ineffective mayday procedures and training also were factors.
In February, the state Department of Labor cited the fire department for serious safety violations, determining that among other problems, the department failed to perform tests on firefighters' breathing gas tanks, failed to conduct medical evaluations and ensure firefighters were fit.
Fire Chief Brian Rooney wouldn't comment on the federal report because the state fire marshal's office is still investigating.
Lt. Steven Velasquez and firefighter Michael Baik died in the July 24 fire.
"This has been a trying and difficult time for everyone involved in the deaths of our two firefighters – their families and friends, their fellow firefighters and the entire city," Rooney said in a statement. "We continue to offer our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the families of Lt. Steven Velasquez and Firefighter Michel Baik as we work our way through the process."
An incident commander had to monitor two different radio channels by using two different handheld radios, the new federal report said.
"At times, radio transmissions on one channel were missed or unanswered because the (incident commander) was transmitting on the opposite channel," the report states.
Fire officials thought they heard what sounded like a mayday sent by one of the firefighters, leading to a discussion among them, but the possible mayday transmission was not confirmed with dispatch, according to the report.
Mayday is an international distress signal firefighters send when they become lost, trapped or in other trouble.
The fire department had a mayday procedure but it did not test the ability of firefighters, dispatchers and incident commanders to manage such incidents, the report found.
"In this incident, mayday transmissions were missed and not acknowledged," the report said. "It is not known why the dispatch center did not hear or acknowledge the maydays or why the mayday tone was not used appropriately."
The report also said fire departments should train firefighters in air management techniques. Some firefighters had left the building to change their air bottles, but both victims were found with depleted cylinders, according to the report.
An incident safety officer arrived more than 20 minutes after the initial dispatch because the incident occurred after hours, the report found. Fire departments should ensure a separate incident safety officer is appointed at each structure fire with the initial dispatch, the agency said.