Investigators seek source of fatal Boston blaze
Officials said they believe the fierce flames may have severed the fallen heroes' fire hose as they struggled to battle the raging blaze
BOSTON — Investigators in the Back Bay brownstone inferno that killed two firefighters are looking at the furnace as a possible point of origin, officials said, while union brass said they believe the fierce flames may have severed the fallen heroes’ fire hose as they struggled to battle the raging blaze.
An official briefed on the probe said the furnace “is one thing they’re looking at,” while a Boston Fire Department spokesman explained investigators will also examine the electrical system and determine whether any smokers lived in the building.
Union officials said yesterday the explosive fire may have burned straight through the hose Lt. Edward J. Walsh, 43, and Michael R. Kennedy, 33, carried into the building.
“That’s one of the potential situations we’re looking at,” said Edward A. Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts. “It happens. You just think you’ve lost water, so you ask for more water.”
Chilling radio transmissions of Walsh and Kennedy’s mayday call make it clear the firefighters, trapped in the basement, were desperate for water minutes after rushing into the building’s basement Wednesday afternoon.
“Charge the line! Charge 33’s line right now!” one of the doomed firefighters is heard saying early in what quickly burst into a nine-alarm blaze.
“Thirty-three is trapped in the basement,” the firefighter said referring to his engine number, after the fourth alarm was struck. “Toward the front of the building ... you gotta charge my line.”
Fire hoses are not designed to be fireproof, said Ken Willette of the National Fire Protection Association, which sets manufacturer standards for firefighting equipment.
“The construction material to provide that level of fire resistance would require a hose that would not be flexible. If you think of materials that are fireproof, it’s things like concrete and metal, and those do not make good materials for a fire hose,” Willette said.
He said fireproof hoses actually could put firefighters in danger by allowing them to get closer to a fire than their protective gear allows.
The building is owned by the estate of Michael J. Callahan. Court records show the property managers paid $984 late last year to upgrade the fire alarm system.
Court records show the estate spent $171,000 on the building last year while reaping $370,909 in gross income. The executor of the estate said he is “cooperating fully” with investigators, while an attorney for the estate said she knew nothing of tenant complaints.
“If there was an issue with anything, we had it taken care of,” attorney Frances X. Hogan told the Herald. “We feel the property has been well-maintained, complied with the building code. It was up to code.”
Kennedy’s comrades pulled him from the basement about 30 minutes into the fire. He was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital and pronounced dead after vain but valiant efforts to revive him. Deputy Chief Joseph Finn, who led the battle against the inferno, made the heart-wrenching decision to leave Walsh’s body inside while firefighters got the furious flames under control.
“The condition was so bad that you couldn’t go in. There’s nothing you can do,” Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said. “They (the other firefighters) want to go in. They think, ‘Just give me a minute. I can go in.’ Then the chief finally says, ‘Nobody in, exterior operation only,’ you have to obey. He sees the whole picture.”
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