Possible errors cited in deaths of 2 firefighters

February 23, 2010 6:49:13 PM PST
Failure to properly assess a house fire and communication problems may have contributed to the deaths of two Houston firefighters, a state fire marshal's review found. Capt. James A. Harlow, 50, and rookie Damion J. Hobbs, 29, died in the April blaze in which both elderly residents safely fled.

Arson investigators later determined the fire was started by a loose electrical connection in a light fixture.

The fire marshal's review noted six findings, which also included a thermal imaging camera was not used, the firefighters were upright instead of assuming a low position, Harlow and Hobbs were found away from their nozzle and hose line, and entry was made before ventilation operations were completed, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday.

Acting Fire Chief Rick Flanagan says an internal review found the officers acted according to guidelines.

"Our report, basically, says that the officers, from the team perspective, did everything according to our guidelines to address this fire," Flanagan said.

No disciplinary action was contemplated against any firefighter on the call, he said.

The Houston Fire Department and the fire marshal's report both note that firefighters did not do a complete assessment of the fire or cut off utilities before entering the dwelling.

According to both reports, Harlow had left his two-way radio in the engine truck and Hobbs' radio was found turned off and tuned to a different channel.

The two reports also note that a thermal imaging camera was not taken inside the residence by Harlow's crew to help gauge the intensity of the fire.

Jeff Caynon, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, said he had not seen either report.

"No fire is exactly the same," Caynon said. "No checklist is going to completely prepare you for the complex nature of the fire ground."