Report: Firefighters’ death investigation reveals lack of communication

The report cited failure to call mayday, use a thermal imager and be fully staffed as contributing factors to the line of duty deaths.

BRYAN, Texas — A review of a fire that killed two firefighters last year says crews need to communicate better and give more attention to the potential for fire in concealed places.

The Associated Press reported that the State Fire Marshal’s Office examined the Feb. 15, 2013 fire at an unoccupied Knights of Columbus Hall in Bryan. Two fire lieutenants, Gregory Pickard and Eric Wallace, were killed and two other firefighters were seriously hurt.

The review found that firefighters did not recognize conditions indicating fire in concealed spaces. It recommended better communication and more extensive evaluation of fires in unoccupied buildings before firefighters enter or remain in such structures, according to the report.

The report said firefighters had a thermal imaging camera that could have aided in assessing the fire and help determine a strategy for putting out the blaze, but they didn’t use it.

According to the findings, Lt. Wallace didn’t use the word “mayday” when he first radioed a distress call that he was lost, low on air and couldn’t get out of the building. As a result, the report found, the commander who ordered firefighters to evacuate the structure didn’t immediately declare it a dire emergency.

“Directions were given as a result of the distress call, but there was no general message alerting all on-scene personnel of a lost firefighter,” the report said.

Investigators determined that a more defensive posture from the outside might have limited the risk to firefighters, according to the report. The report also found that staffing was below levels recommended by national standards.

The two injured firefighters, Ricky Mantey and Mitchell Moran, were hurt trying to rescue Lt. Wallace. An autopsy determined Lt. Wallace, a 12-year veteran of the department, was burned to death and Lt. Pickard, a 32-year veteran, died of heat and smoke inhalation, according to the report.

Firefighter Moran returned to work a year after the fire, and firefighter Mantey continues rehabilitation.

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