3 face new fire sanctions

Internal charges tied to fatal blaze could foreshadow terminations, union officials say

Sun follow-up

April 13, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

Three Baltimore fire officers who were suspended after a fatal live-burn training exercise faced new internal sanctions yesterday, which union officials believe could be a prelude to their termination.

The internal departmental charging documents obtained by The Sun reveal more details about the specific lapses alleged to have occurred during the fatal blaze and show that top fire commanders believe shoddy record-keeping on medical certifications could have exposed the department to "legal and civil liability."

Racheal M. Wilson, a mother of two, died of injuries she suffered in the building that instructors set on fire Feb. 9. Two other firefighters were hurt.

Rick Binetti, a Fire Department spokesman, confirmed that Lt. Joseph L. Crest, Lt. Barry P. Broyles and Capt. Terry L. Horrocks have been charged with violating internal regulations.

Crest and Broyles, who were at the fatal training fire, face charges related to how the exercise was executed, Binetti said. Horrocks faces charges related to failing to oversee medical certification records.

Binetti said that possible penalties for those types of charges could include longer suspensions, demotions or terminations.

None of the charged members could be reached for comment last night.

Stephan G. Fugate, president of the fire union that represents all three officers, said he does not think his members are being treated fairly.

He said Crest and Broyles, the two instructors, were subordinate officers at the fatal fire scene who had to follow orders. The pair had been suspended in mid- February.

Fugate called Horrocks a "scapegoat" for what he said was likely a long-standing practice of shoddy record-keeping at the department - an allegation the department denied. None of the charges tie Horrocks to the fatal fire exercise.

In mid-February, the head of the training academy, Kenneth Hyde, was dismissed for his role in the exercise after an investigation concluded that it violated 36 national safety standards. But department officials have always said more people might lose their jobs.

The training death has created turmoil within the Fire Department and tarnished its reputation. This week, the department's largest union passed a no-confidence vote in the leadership of Chief William J. Goodwin Jr.

Crest and Broyles are charged with four internal offenses - including being "incompetent or negligent in the performance of duty," failing to give "undivided attention to assigned duties," failing to "exercise good judgment," and violating department rules, according to the documents obtained by The Sun.

The documents allege that Crest, the lead instructor during the fatal blaze, allowed instructors to set "numerous" fires, a violation of national safety standards that require only one blaze to be set at a time in a building used for a training burn. An internal investigation revealed that instructors set seven fires in the vacant house on South Calverton Road.

Crest also failed to provide backup hoses for instructors, failed to put a proper rescue team in place and did not create a safe training area for the recruits, according to the documents.

Broyles, a veteran firefighter who was in charge of a team of backup firefighters - known as a rapid intervention team - was charged with allowing his team to be unprepared for an emergency, not having a charged hose and not being properly dressed to react to an emergency, according to the documents.

"Lt. Broyles' actions and lack of preparation did not allow his team to respond to an emergency situation," the documents state.

Horrocks was suspended in mid-March as the department revamped its procedures at the training academy and discovered that at least 22 firefighters did not have proper certification to provide emergency medical support.

"I would suggest that he's being made a scapegoat for what is probably a long-standing problem with the record-keeping process in the academy," Fugate said.

Binetti denied that charge, saying: "The problems began on his watch."

The department's policies say that each firefighter is responsible for keeping his medical certifications up-to-date. But fire officials said that they had specifically given Horrocks the task of overseeing that process.

"When Horrocks was in charge, he was asked time and time and time again to find out who had and didn't have certification and build a centralized way to keep track of certification," Binetti said. "Unfortunately, it never got done."

When Horrocks was suspended, Fire Department officials said the members with lapsed certifications had desk jobs and did not interact with the public. But the internal charging documents show that some firefighters may have provided emergency care without having proper certification.

The lack of oversight "allowed members who were without any valid medical certification to treat sick or injured citizens of Baltimore," according to the documents. "His actions placed the Fire Department in a position of possible legal and civil liability."

Fugate said most of the people lacking proper certification predated Horrocks' stint at the academy. The list of 22 included three members of the command staff and Fugate. "A significant number of them lacked certification when Goodwin himself was chief of the academy," Fugate said.

Horrocks is also being charged with losing a separate database, although the documents also show that he told investigators he had given the database to Hyde, who was fired in part for poor record-keeping. Horrocks is also being charged with not answering calls to his departmental cell phone.



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