Two hurt in earlier city fire exercise

Injuries were a day before fatality, also in a controlled burn

Sun Exclusive

February 16, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

The day before a fire cadet died in a live-fire training exercise in a city rowhouse, another cadet and a fire lieutenant were injured in a similar controlled burn in East Baltimore, fire officials acknowledged yesterday.

It took several days for the Fire Department to confirm the earlier exercise, and a spokesman declined to provide additional details. A recruit, Daniel Nott, suffered a first-degree burn on his cheek and a firefighter, Lt. Sam Darby, was burned on his hand, fire officials said.

But apparent mistakes in the back-to-back training exercises - which a department spokesman said are part of one investigation - raise further questions about the practice of setting fires in vacant rowhouses in city neighborhoods to teach trainees.

"Given the injuries, however minor, it seems to me that ... it would have raised some red flags," said Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, the president of the Baltimore Fire Officers union.

He said the department should have "either canceled the next day's training or had more adequate safety provisions in place."

After the death Feb. 9 of cadet Racheal M. Wilson, 29, in a fire set on South Calverton Road, the Fire Department suspended without pay the head of the academy, Kenneth Hyde Sr., and the lead instructor, Lt. Joseph Crest.

Yesterday, the department suspended a third officer, Lt. Barry Broyes, also without pay, according to a statement issued by fire officials.

Wilson, whose funeral is today, and at least one other recruit were on the third floor of the Calverton Road rowhouse when flames got out of control. Fire officials have acknowledged that federal regulations governing controlled burns were not followed.

Union leaders have said that at least two and as many as five fires were set in the rowhouse, a violation of protocols, and there is a dispute about whether a safety officer was doing his job.

Yesterday's suspension of Broyes shows that fire officials believe the training exercise was fraught with problems from start to finish. Fugate said Broyes was in charge of the rapid intervention team, responsible for rescuing the recruits once the fire got out of control, and his fire hose was not charged with water during the burn, and he was missing some equipment.

Fugate said he is furious over the latest suspension, and said others should also be held responsible. He said midlevel officers might have been forced to make bad decisions under orders of their superiors.

"If there is going to be a trickle down, then the goddamn [chief] safety officer and the acting chief of the department should be suspended, too," Fugate said. "Our subordinate officers simply do not challenge superior officers. There is not room for that in an emergency service."

This week, Mayor Sheila Dixon said she has confidence in Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. About the violations during the training exercise, she said, "Of course it concerns me."

One of the central questions raised by union officials is the role of the safety officer at the Calverton Road fire. The safety officer is supposed be independent of the fire-ground commander to ensure proper safety protocols are followed during what can be a hectic and dangerous job.

The department has said Hyde was at the scene and acting as safety officer, while Crest was put in charge of the exercise. Fugate has disputed whether anyone was designated safety officer.

Yesterday, Hyde's attorney, Peter S. O'Neill, described his client as having a "global role" as safety officer, and said Crest was directly responsible for both the exercise and safety of personnel.

"It is not the job of Kenny Hyde to micromanage the supervisor for every exercise," O'Neill said. "Kenny Hyde is not suggesting that the lieutenant did not follow appropriate protocol or regulations, just that that was not Hyde's direct responsibility."

O'Neill said it would be "emasculating" for the lieutenant in charge if Hyde interfered in the exercise. Hyde was there to "supervise the supervisors."

That interpretation counters rules from the National Fire Protection Association, which city fire officials say they follow. Those rules for live burns require that a safety officer be on the scene and is supposed to "intervene and control any aspect of the operation when, in his or her judgment, a potential or actual danger, accident or unsafe condition exists."

Steven Edwards, director of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and the former chief of the Prince George's County Fire Department, said the safety officer has an obligation to step in when an exercise is off-track.

"The whole purpose of the safety officer is to have absolute authority over that drill to make it safe," he said in an interview yesterday. He also questioned whether the live burn training should have been stopped after the injuries in the East Baltimore exercise.

"If they had a problem the day before they should have fully addressed that," Edwards said. "I don't know if they did or not, I'm just saying what should have happened."

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