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Wrongful death lawsuit filed for firefighter fatality

Families who suffer the loss of a loved one because of another person's negligence or reckless behavior may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Connecticut. Serving in a dangerous occupation, such as a first-responder, does not foreclose these lawsuits.

The widow and brother of a deceased Hartford firefighter announced the filing of a lawsuit against the city earlier this month. The firefighter was killed while fighting a house fire in 2014. The lawsuit alleges that no one searched him for eight minutes, even though a mayday call was made.

Personal animus between the firefighter and his lieutenant who entered the structure with him played a role in the fatality, the lawsuit claims. According to the lawsuit, personal hostility was caused when the firefighter confronted the lieutenant because he abandoned him in another earlier fire.

The plaintiffs also allege that fire personnel deliberately spread false rumors that the firefighter had cocaine in his system to divert attention from command structure failures, equipment maintenance irregularities and failure to provide state-mandated training. They claim that the lieutenant's behavior was a conscious and intentional act which made injury or death substantially certain to occur.

A special board of former fire chiefs, appointed by the Fire Department to review its response to this fire, concluded that eight minutes elapsed from the time of the initial mayday call and an attempted rescue by a specialized rescue team. It found that the team located the firefighter within 30 seconds of entering the structure and attempts to remove him were frustrated because his leg was tangled in a piece of wrought iron furniture. The report concluded that his air cylinder was empty.

The medical examiner's office also determined that death was caused by a lack of breathing gas, which ran out while he fought the fire. An enlarged heart, known as cardiac hypertrophy, was a contributing factor to his death.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is preparing a final report on his death. In its preliminary report on the firefighter's breathing apparatus, NIOSH concluded that the device was not working properly and should have provided warning that it was running out of air.

Source: The Hartford Courant, "Family of firefighter killed in blaze sues Hartford," Dave Altimari, Nov. 12, 2015

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