- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The family of a firefighter who died when he ran out of air while battling a house fire last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city on Thursday.

Kevin Bell’s family is also suing Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas; Deputy Chief James McLaughlin, the scene commander; and fire Lt. John Moree, who was paired with Bell fighting the fire inside a burning home.

Bell’s widow, Wayatte Statham-Bell, and brother, Shawn Bell, said Thursday that they hope the lawsuit helps shine a light on exactly what went wrong on Oct. 7, 2014, and hold those in command accountable. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

The 48-year-old Bell was the first Hartford firefighter in 40 years to die in the line of duty. The medical examiner’s office concluded he died of asphyxia because his tank ran out of air.

“Our world crashed that day,” Statham-Bell said. “Our lives have never been the same.”

A preliminary investigation showed an alarm on Bell’s air tank failed a test.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited and fined the fire department in April for serious violations related to Bell’s death that included not ensuring the air tanks underwent required testing every five years.

Paul Levin, the family’s attorney, said that Moree should not have left the house without Bell and that McLaughlin waited more than eight minutes to send in a rescue team after Bell transmitted a muffled call for help. That call apparently went unheard, according to a fire department report.

Once inside, Levin said, it took the rescue team 20 seconds to locate Bell, whose leg had become caught in a piece of metal furniture.

“The accountability train is coming,” Levin said.

City spokeswoman Mirabel La Luz declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit and said independent counsel may be brought in to defend Hartford and the fire department officials against those allegations.

“This is an extremely sensitive situation,” La Luz said. “We’re talking about the tragic death of one of our own firefighters, a member of the Hartford community who grew up here and many people knew and loved. Our hearts go out to Kevin’s family, who has suffered an enormous loss.”

McLoughlin’s lawyer, Patrick Tomasiewicz, issued a statement saying the lawsuit irreparably defames his client’s good name.

“Upon the conclusion of this case, my client will pursue the appropriate remedy to vindicate his name,” he said.

Moree’s phone number is unlisted and he could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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