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A decade after deaths of 2 Boston firefighters, senators pass bill to toughen oversight

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BOSTON (AP) — A decade after two firefighters died when they became trapped in a brownstone in Boston’s historic Back Bay neighborhood by a fire caused by sparks from welders working next door, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill Thursday aimed at toughening oversight of so-called “hot work.”

The fire in March 2014 took the lives of Lt. Edward Walsh, 43, and firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33. They were trapped in the building’s basement and died from smoke inhalation and burns.

The bill requires the Department of Fire Services to develop a publicly accessible database to document notices of code violations and fines from violations of the state fire code, including the failure of an individual to maintain hot-work training certification, performing hot work without hot-work training certification, and failure to comply with hot-work permit requirements.

Investigators determined that the wind-whipped fire was started by welding sparks from work being done by two employees of an ironworks firm working without a permit next door.

Investigators determined that that actions were irresponsible and careless, but not criminal, according to the district attorney’s office at the time.

Kennedy was a former Marine and volunteer for burn victims and for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Walsh was married with three children.

In 2015, the state fire marshal along with the Boston firefighters’ union and state firefighters’ association, called for the passage of legislation to establish a commission to study strengthening state regulations for welding and similar work, including stronger penalties for violations and training and certification.

Democratic state Sen. Nick Collins, the primary sponsor of the bill, said passing this measure “will ensure that the critical reforms, training, oversight, and accountability needed to prevent tragedies like the Back Bay fire will be the law of the land.”

“We do this in honor of Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy so that their sacrifices are not in vain,” he added Thursday.

In 2016, a federal report found the Boston Fire Department’s lack of training to fight wind-driven fires, inadequate staffing, and failure to adequately assess risk played a role in the blaze.

The 77-page National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report pointed out several other factors, including a hose to the basement where they were trapped that burned through and therefore couldn’t deliver water, and doors left open by escaping tenants and workers that allowed air to flow freely through the building.

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.

By STEVE LeBLANC
Associated Press

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