The family of a Hartford, Conn., firefighter killed in the line of duty has settled a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city for $350,000.
The case of Kevin Bell was cited in a Kansas City Star investigation this month into firefighter deaths. The Star found a disturbing pattern after analyzing reports of 201 firefighter deaths at structure fires — they die in the same ways, time after time, because lessons go unlearned.
The Star also found that survivors of fallen firefighters generally cannot file wrongful-death suits, so the fear of having to pay big damage awards doesn’t push departments to take more cautions. And even in states like Connecticut where departments can be sued, the hurdles are high; for a family to prevail in court — or even receive a settlement — errors must go so far beyond the pale as to seem intentional.
Bell, 48, died fighting a house fire in October 2014. The family filed suit in November 2015, saying that it wanted answers about why Bell, a six-year veteran of the department, was left behind for more than eight minutes even though a mayday call had been made by his lieutenant after losing contact with Bell in the house.
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“The case was happily settled against all parties and it will now be withdrawn,” said Jeffrey Ment, an attorney representing Bell’s estate.
Ment said the two sides agreed not to comment on the settlement’s details. Court records show the two sides had applied for a mediation session in October to see if they could settle the case before beginning depositions.
Hartford City Council President Thomas “TJ” Clarke II said Tuesday that he was glad that the city and family could “come to a settlement that could be agreed upon.”
A fire department board of inquiry reviewed the fire incident and response and found numerous mistakes and other issues, including that there was a failure to properly search the room in which Bell was trapped and that other firefighters did not hear partner John Moree’s mayday call.
The report also concluded that more than eight minutes passed between Moree’s call and the attempted rescue of Bell by a rescue team.
Once they entered the building, the rescue team found Bell within 30 seconds. His leg was tangled in a piece of wrought-iron furniture and his air cylinder was empty, according to the report.
The report also identified a lack of training for command officers and other mistakes in firefighting and life-saving procedures. Fire Chief Reginald Freeman, who took over the job in February, has implemented new procedures to address the issues highlighted in the report.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has not completed its final report on Bell’s death, but a preliminary report found that one of the alarms that should have alerted Bell that his air tank was running out of air was not working properly.
The Star’s Mike Hendricks contributed to this story.