FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
FAMILY OF LATE HARTFORD FIREFIGHTER KEVIN BELL FILE WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT AGAINST THE CITY OF HARTFORD ON BEHALF OF HIS ESTATE. FIRE CHIEF, DEPUTY CHIEF AND LIEUTENANT ARE NAMED IN THE CIVIL LAWSUIT.
Hartford, CT: Family members of late Hartford firefighter Kevin Bell filed a wrongful death lawsuit, on behalf of his estate, against the City of Hartford regarding Bell's death while fighting a house fire last year on October 7, 2014.
“Eight minutes and three seconds,” said Shawn Bell, Kevin Bell's brother and administrator of his estate. “That's how long it took the scene commander to dispatch a rescue team into the burning building and locate my brother. Eight minutes and three seconds after that muffled mayday call was transmitted and yet, it took only twenty seconds to find him. My brother was left behind and by the time they went back to get him, it was too late. If they had gone in sooner, I am certain my brother would still be with us today. ”
Bell, a firefighter with Engine Company 16, was 48 years old when he was killed fighting a house fire at 598 Blue Hills Avenue. Bell died from asphyxia when his tank ran out of air, leading to cardiac arrest.
“My husband didn't have to die,” said his widow, Wayatte Statham-Bell. “Knowing what I know now, my husband should be living the life he loved so much. Every single day without him is really hard. Perhaps, the most heartbreaking, is the fact that he will never get the chance see his first grandchild being born. In January, our daughter is going to have a baby boy. How he would have loved to see this day.”
Hartford attorney Paul Levin of Hartford, co-counsel for the family representing Kevin Bell's estate along with attorney Jeffrey Ment, said it was an unconscionable decision to order a firefighter into a burning building with faulty gear and then pairing him with a lieutenant, who didn't have it drilled into his head, that you don't leave the building without your partner. Levin also said the scene commander inexplicably failed to respond to a mayday call and apparently withheld the order for the special rescue team to immediately go in the building and rescue Bell.
“The fact remains that Kevin Bell should not have been sent in under these conditions but once inside the building, with his whereabouts unaccounted for after the building evacuation order had been issued, they should have sent in the rescue team right away,” Levin said. “The fact remains that Kevin Bell should have come home that day. The city's fire department, and those responsible for the decisions made, need to be held accountable. They knew firefighters were being sent into harms way with defective and ill maintained equipment. They knew there was a severe lack of live fire conditions and tactics fighter training. They knew that the incident commander lacked command and control experience. They knew all of this, and yet, they ordered Kevin Bell into a burning building.”
The 14-count lawsuit includes four wrongful death counts against:
- The City of Hartford, for intentionally tolerating dangerous conditions substantially certain to cause injury. The suit cites defective, ill maintained Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA/air packs), including sub-standard functioning secondary low oxygen alarm and ill-fitting face masks, issues which had been long ignored and brought once again, directly to the attention of the chief days prior to the fatal fire.
- Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas, for among other things, knowing there were equipment, training, command and crew integrity and related management problems and not addressing them.
- Deputy Chief James McLaughlin—the scene commander who had not received the required live fire training and tactics instructions which led to serious command errors, chaotic behavior and decision making at the scene. The suit also states McLaughlin made a conscious and deliberate decision to delay sending in the tactical team to save Bell from the fire though members of the team were pleading to be allowed into the building.
- Lieutenant John Moree—the firefighter who was sent into the burning building with Bell but then, left him behind. Lt. Moree made a muffled mayday call which either went ignored or unheard, but then failed to immediately alert nearby firefighters when he left the house fire that Bell was still missing inside. Kevin Bell had complained to family members and other firefighters not long before the October 7th fire, that Lt. Moree had abandoned him in another fire where they had been paired together on a fire hose line.
An investigation done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found Bell's air pack failed the Remaining Service Life Indicator Test—the secondary alarm bell failed to operate within parameters.
An internal investigation, done by Hartford Fire Department's Board Of Inquiry, also found a lack of training, poor radio communication, lack of crew integrity in regards to working in teams of at least two, failure to perform a proper search of the room for missing firefighters and not requesting additional resources to search the room in a timely manner.
The suit also includes defamation and related counts for statements made by Hartford fire department members which the chief, and others privy to the toxicology and medical examiner's preliminary report, knew to be false, and harmful to Bell's reputation.
“And this is why we are here today,” said Shawn Bell. “We want justice. We want every, single, last person who should be held accountable in Kevin's death—to be held accountable.”