BRYAN, Texas (AP) - A review of a blaze that killed two Texas firefighters last year says crews need to communicate better and give more attention to the potential for fire in concealed places, according to findings released Monday.
The report from the State Fire Marshal’s Office examined the Feb. 15, 2013, fire at an unoccupied Knights of Columbus Hall in Bryan. Two Bryan fire lieutenants, Gregory Pickard and Eric Wallace, were killed and two other firefighters were seriously hurt.
Firefighters did not recognize conditions indicating fire in concealed spaces, the review found. It also recommended better communication and more extensive evaluation of fires in unoccupied buildings before firefighters enter or remain in such burning structures.
Fire Chief Randy McGregor will address the findings at a news conference Wednesday, city officials said.
The report said firefighters had a thermal imaging camera that could have aided in assessing the fire and helping the fire commander determine a strategy for putting out the blaze, but they didn’t use it.
The camera also could have helped with locating trapped firefighters, the report found.
According to the findings, Wallace didn’t use the emergency 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 since the building appeared to be unoccupied at the time of the fire, an offensive attack on the blaze from the interior may not have been needed, and a more defensive posture from the outside might have limited the risk to firefighters.
The report also found fire company staffing was below levels recommended by national standards.
The two injured firefighters, Ricky Mantey and Mitchell Moran, were hurt trying to rescue Wallace. Autopsies determined Wallace, who had been with the Bryan Fire Department for 12 years, was burned to death and Pickard, a 32-year firefighter, died of heat and smoke inhalation.
Moran returned to work a year after the blaze. Mantey continues rehabilitation.