Investigation Into Fatal Blaze
"There is a sacredness in tears....They are the messengers of overwhelming grief... and of unspeakable love."
That unspeakable love was epitomized in our city this week by the firefighters from around the world who came to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by Lt. Ed Walsh and FF Mike Kennedy. There is no city like Boston in the world, and the men of Ladder 15/Engine 33 truly epitomized the phrase Boston Strong as they said goodbye to their brothers this week.
BOSTON April 4, 2014
By Michele McPhee – Boston
The deadly Back Bay blaze that killed two veteran firefighters last week was started when sparks from a welder’s torch were blown into clapboards of 298 Beacon Street, Boston Fire Commissioner John Hassan said today at a press conference alongside the Boston Police homicide squad.
“The slag, or sparks, got into under the clapboards,’’ Hassan said at a press conference today, a day after his department endured the agonizing task of burying slain firefighter Mike Kennedy, a combat Marine veteran. On Wednesday Lt. Ed Walsh was laid to rest.
High winds, Hassan said, fed the flames. But it remains unknown how long the fire had been raging in the walls of the Back Bay brownstone because the welders apparently left the scene without calling 911. Investigators focused on the welding company, sources said, after welding tools were found in the rubble by Boston Fire arson investigators. Hassan, and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, declined to publicly name the company.
Several law enforcement sources directly involved in the investigation said they have recovered video showing the welders trying to put out the fire with snow and when that didn’t work they fled the scene and did not alert authorities.
“It is an absolute outrage,’’ said Massachusetts state Senator Ken Donnelly, a former Lexington firefighter. “There needs to be criminal charges in this matter.”
The company, Police Commissioner Evans told reporters, did not pull permits to weld a back fence as required under city of Boston statute. Nor did they have a fire detail, which is required for any welding inside a structure and determined by a BFD chief for outdoor welding after an inspection based on the requested permit, Hassan said.
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office will make the final determination about any criminal charges the company could face, but chief homicide prosecutor Ed Zabin said that Massachusetts does not have a criminally negligent homicide statute, which could make it difficult for prosecutors to hold the welding company culpable in the deaths of Walsh and Kennedy.
Donnelly made a vow to his fire brethren in the BFD to change that in the state legislature by filing a bill in honor of the slain Ladder 15/Engine 33 firefighters to make like the ones alleged to have been committed by the welders – not calling 911 and failing to pull proper permits – a crime.
“These guys were good firefighters. For things to go that bad that fast that fire had to be going for a while,’’ Donnelly said. “It is unacceptable that criminally negligent homicide charges are not an option in this case.”
The statute does exist in New York where in 2009 a Bronx landlord was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of two FDNY firefighters forced to jump to their deaths because he had created a labyrinth of illegal, windowless rooms for rent that gave them no way to escape.
Construction companies connected to the erection of the Deutsch Bank building near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan were also charged with criminally negligent homicide when two FDNY firefighters died and 100 others were injured battling a blaze in 2007 in what prosecutors called “a death trap” created by the agencies negligence.
Ed Kelly President of the Professional Association of Firefighters said that the unions representing jakes in Massachusetts, and Boston firefighters in Local 118, said that they support legislation that would hold any company that engages in shoddy work that creates a danger for its members criminally responsible.
“The city of Boston did not just lose two of our best firefighters, but two exemplary men. “We will await the result of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office investigation into the events that led to the blaze that killed our brothers Lt. Ed Walsh and FF Mike Kennedy. We will also support any legislation that would lead to criminal charges if negligence is found to be a factor in the fire.”