State Releases Findings Into Deadly Bryan Fire

By  | 

BRYAN - The State Fire Marshal's Office has released its findings in its investigation into the February 2013 fire at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bryan that left two firefighters dead and two others critically injured.

Lieutenants Eric Wallace and Greg Pickard were killed in the early morning blaze. Wallace had indicated he was trapped, and Pickard, along with Firefighters Ricky Mantey and Mitch Moran, were among those working to get Wallace out. Mantey and Moran were critically injured.

The report, released Monday morning, notes six key findings:

- Firefighters did not fully recognize the nature of the fire conditions in the building, and available equipment (a thermal imaging camera) wasn't utilized that could have helped.

- Information on what was seen inside the building was not properly relayed to command on the scene.

- There were no indications the building was occupied (it was not).

- When Wallace called in that he was lost, low on air, and could not get out, he did not use the term "Mayday," and the incident command did not declare a Mayday as a result.

- Fire staffing was below the national standard recommendations, and no command-level officers were present. College Station had resources (an on-duty battalion chief) available, but they were not requested.

- An incident safety officer was assigned to a fixed position at the back of the building, limiting his ability to monitor fire conditions on all sides.

"Firefighting is not an exact science, and through post-incident analysis of most large emergency incidents, it is not unusual that performance problems are identified," the report reads. "The final analysis of this incident does not suggest that either of the firefighters who lost their lives, or any of the surviving members of the Bryan Fire Department, failed to perform their duties as trained or as expected by their organization. It does delineate findings and recommendations that, when taken as a whole and appropriately applied, can help ensure that a similar result will not occur again."

Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor and a representative from the State Fire Marshal's Office will address the report at a Wednesday press conference. The only item from the report McGregor would address on Monday was the finding that his department did not have a command-level officers were present. He said that is simply not true.

"Many of the administration officers were present at the scene, myself included," said Chief McGregor.

"To say that there weren't any command level officer's present is not true," he continued.

McGregor went on to explain that the report is referring to staffing a rescue mission with a command-level officer. He says that's pretty rare. The report states that a battalion chief from CSFD was available and could have been used, but wasn't called upon and wasn't part of the mutual aid agreement.

Chief McGregor says they had a pretty good handle on things and didn't call on the CSFD officer.

Also noted by investigators was a lack of fire protection systems in the building, which was built in 1945 and is listed as being owned by the Bryan Columbus Club Council. The Knights of Columbus Hall had been classified as an existing assembly occupancy.

Portable fire extinguishers, battery-operated emergency lighting units and internally illuminated exit signs were in the building, but "there were no fire protection systems installed," according to the report.

- All exit doors equipped with a lock or latch are supposed to have panic-type exit hardware, investigators wrote. Only one door had that hardware installed.

- No fire alarm system or fire sprinkler system was installed.

- A fixed fire extinguishing system was not installed on the ktichen vent hood.

The fire's cause was a "heating and shorting within the insulation of a damaged power cord for a pedestal fan," the report says. It was ruled accidental.

According the report, firefighters received a call at 11:19 p.m. on February 15, 2013 that the building was on fire. No cars were in the parking lot, according to the 9-1-1 caller.

Crews first arrived five minutes later. Wallace made a walk around the building as part of a check.

"No one reported that the fire should not be attacked offensively," the report reads.

Wallace and another firefighter entered the structure at 11:26 p.m. as the command requested a College Station ladder truck. Wallace and the firefighter found the kitchen fully involved in flames, which the report says was not told to the command.

At 11:30 p.m., command noted "a lot of fire" on a portion of the roof.

Another crew that had entered the building five minutes after Wallace's team had to leave after a member lost a piece of his face mask. Around that time, Wallace asked for more hose from command. More firefighters entered and pulled 50 more feet of hose for Wallace. Firefighters began attacking fire above them in the dance hall portion of the building.

By 11:37 p.m., command said they believed the fire was "diminishing." Some firefighters began exiting because they were low on air, but others moved further in. A minute later, command again said it looked like there was "improvement" in fighting the fire.

At 11:39 p.m., Wallace and another firefighter attacked a fire in the bingo room, and "visibility immediately turned to zero," the report says. With oxygen starting to run low, Wallace told the firefighter they needed to get out, and the two began crawling towards the door. The firefighter reported he had felt Wallace touching his leg at one point, but at 11:40 p.m., Wallace radioed, "I have a low air alarm, separated from my firefighter. I'm on the hose, on the red hose. I need some air."

The firefighter heard the call, stopped exiting and told command he couldn't find Wallace. An evacuation was ordered by command.

At 11:42 p.m., a second alarm was requested, which would mean additional resources would be deployed to the fire. However, dispatch "misunderstood the request and instead sounded the emergency tones a second time." The result was a six-minute delay before dispatch realized the mistake, the report says.

A rapid intervention team was sent in, which included Pickard.

A second distress call came from Wallace at 11:44 p.m.. He said "stuff" had fallen on the hose and that he was "disoriented."

"Please send help," were the last words he transmitted.

The team eventually got to Wallace and were pulling him to the door as the room was engulfed. Firefighters tried to put water on the fire to help the rapid intervention team.

An evacuation order was transmitted at 11:47 p.m. The team did not respond.

Other firefighters pulled the rapid intervention team members out to safety at 11:50 p.m.

Wallace's body was not removed from the building until 12:08 a.m.

Wallace died at St. Joseph Regional Health Care in Bryan. Pickard and Firefighters Mitch Moran and Ricky Mantey were taken to Galveston, where Pickard died.

Moran and Mantey underwent treatment, which continues today.