Fire officials, hit with a scathing federal report criticizing the department in the deaths of two firefighters in 2014, said they are preparing to sue the manufacturer of a diesel engine now in more than a dozen problem-plagued city fire trucks in order to thwart future disasters.
Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn fought back tears yesterday while saying a “perfect storm for a tragedy” led to the deaths of fire Lt. Edward Walsh Jr. and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy on March 26, 2014, in a Back Bay brownstone as a wind-whipped blaze engulfed the building.
But Finn blamed budget cuts under the administration of the late Mayor Thomas M. Menino for forcing fire officials to put the replacement of equipment ahead of proper training and staffing.
Finn said he is working with the city’s lawyer to file a lawsuit against Navistar International, the company that created the MaxxForce engines inside some of the department’s vehicles.
“There’s 47 lawsuits across the country attributed to this engine and a number of class-action lawsuits and we’re going to be joining that,” Finn said last night.
“They make up about 35 percent of our fleet and they’re taking up about 80 percent of our service and maintenance time,” he said.
“We are going to be filing our own single-action lawsuit and we’re working with the city’s attorney on how we can best approach that.”
Finn’s comments came on the heels of a 77-page National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report that found inadequate wind-driven fire training, subpar staffing and poor tactical decisions contributed to Walsh and Kennedy’s deaths.
Finn also attributed the risky state of the department’s fleet to “very poor choices” made by his predecessor.
“They’re out of service so much because of this engine problem that we’ve had to push into service our reserve fleet, which are engines over 15 years old that are now up on front-line service and you can imagine what that’s doing for us,” Finn said.
The 14 pieces of equipment with problematic Navistar engines, Finn said, have even left parts of the city exposed to fires without coverage from the department’s “invaluable” ladder trucks.
“In the last month or two we’ve had areas of the city that did not have a ladder truck because one of these went out of service and we didn’t have one to replace it with,” Finn said. “It’s a significant issue.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh also blasted the current state of the department’s fleet, calling fire trucks purchased in 2010, 2011 and 2012 “lemons” that already have to be replaced.
“When we talk about re-establishing the fleet, we’re looking at it right now in the budget, we have to start by re-establishing the newer trucks, which is a problem,” Walsh said. “It’s going to take several years to get to where we need to get to.”
When asked why no one in the department was disciplined after the fatal blaze, Finn said: “They’re all gone and we’re here. And you know what? We, my team, the people who work with me, we have done everything we can in 18 months to turn this around and we’ve made some significant strides in doing that.”