The blaze that killed two Boston firefighters last week was started by sparks from a welder's torch and the welders allegedly fled without alerting anyone, Boston officials said today.
One Boston politician wants to change the state law to allow the welding company to be charged with criminally negligent homicide.
“The slag, or sparks, got into under the clapboards," Fire Commissioner John Hassan said at a press conference today, a day after his department buried firefighter Mike Kennedy, a combat Marine veteran. On Wednesday Lt. Ed Walsh was laid to rest. Hassan was joined at the news conference by the Boston Police homicide squad.
High winds, Hassan said, fed the flames. But it remains unknown how long the fire had been smoldering in the walls of the Back Bay brownstone because the welders left the scene without calling 911, officials said. Investigators focused on the welding company, several law enforcement sources told ABC News, after welding tools were found in the rubble by arson investigators sifting through the soot and debris for Walsh's wedding ring.
Hassan and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans declined to publicly name the company.
Sources said that the investigators believe the welders were aware of the fire and did not call 911 or alert anyone occupying the building about the blaze.
"It is an absolute outrage," said Massachusetts state Sen. Ken Donnelly, a former Lexington firefighter. “There needs to be criminal charges in this matter.”
The welding company, Evans told reporters, did not obtain permits to weld a back fence as required under city of Boston statute. Nor did they have a fire detail, which is required for any welding inside a structure. A fire detail for outside welding is determined by a fire chief when a permit is requested.
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office will make the final determination about any criminal charges the company could face, but chief homicide prosecutor Ed Zabin said that Massachusetts does not have a criminally negligent homicide statute, which could make it difficult for prosecutors to hold the welding company culpable in the deaths of Walsh and Kennedy.
Donnelly told ABC News he made a vow to the Boston Fire Department to file a bill in honor of Walsh and Kennedy to make contractors culpable for construction code lapses that result in firefighters death.
“These guys were good firefighters. For things to go that bad that fast, that fire had to be going for a while," Donnelly said. “It is unacceptable that criminally negligent homicide charges are not an option in this case.”
Donnelly said that he will study New York's criminally negligent homicide statute that was used in 2009 when a Bronx landlord was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of two firefighters forced to jump to their deaths because the landlord had created a labyrinth of illegal, windowless rooms for rent that gave the firefighters no way to escape.
Construction companies connected to the erection of the Deutsch Bank building near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan were also charged with criminally negligent homicide when two firefighters died and 100 others were injured battling a blaze in 2007 in what prosecutors called “a death trap” created by shoddy, cost-cutting work. The company reached a deal with prosecutors which resulted in a fine, but not prosecution.
Ed Kelly president of the Professional Association of Firefighters, told ABC News that the unions representing firefighters in Massachusetts, and Boston firefighters in Local 118, said that they support legislation that would hold any company that creates a danger for its members criminally responsible.