Results delayed for months in Fire Department probe

March 29, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

The results of an independent investigation into the Baltimore City Fire Department prompted by a fatality during a live training burn will be delayed four to six months, City Hall officials said yesterday.

The results of the probe might now be released in the midst of or after September's mayoral primary, which could either reignite debate over fire cadet Racheal M. Wilson's death in the campaign's final weeks or effectively keep the issue off the political agenda until after the election.

Mayor Sheila Dixon's chief of staff, Otis Rolley III, acknowledged that the new timeline is awkward.

"There is nothing we can do about it," he said. "The mayor has been very blunt on this. It is hard to believe anything scarier could come out."

Rolley said there was a misunderstanding between the city and Howard County as to the scope of the investigation. He said the city wants a more expansive review of training, safety and communications, in addition to a separate investigation into the fatal training fire. That includes, he said, reinterviewing witnesses and reconstructing the deadly exercise.

"Initially, they thought our request was to review the [Fire Department's] internal investigation - as to whether it passed the smell test," Rolley said. "When they started to realize that the mayor needed a complete and thorough review, they realized it would take longer."

Wilson was killed in a Feb. 9 training fire set in a Southwest Baltimore rowhouse, which city fire officials said violated 36 national safety standards. Dixon fired the head of the academy, Chief Kenneth Hyde Sr., and suspended three other fire commanders.

Dixon announced in late February that a Howard County deputy fire chief would report to her by March 30 with the results of an independent investigation.

Rolley said Dixon was "a little annoyed" when she learned the investigation would be delayed. "I think the exact quote was, `I wanted it at the end of the month, but I want it done right,' " he said.

Howard County Deputy Fire Chief Chris Shimer, who Dixon had said was leading the probe, could not be reached for comment.

Yesterday, Baltimore and Howard County officials contradicted themselves on who was leading the investigation.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Dixon, said Shimer is in charge. But William Mould, a spokesman for Howard County Fire and Rescue, said Shimer is being made available as part of a larger team of experts reviewing the city Fire Department.

"A lot of people have the misconception that Howard County is conducting the review," Mould said. "What the actual story is [is] that Howard County is providing assistance to the city of Baltimore through the mayor's office."

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