WHEN A nine-alarm blaze breaks out, the Boston Fire Department calls in more than the local engine company to fight it. To investigate the circumstances surrounding such a conflagration — especially the events leading up to the tragic loss of two firefighters who answered the call to battle it — extra help should also be summoned.
Fire Commissioner John Hassan deserves praise for responding to that broader need by inviting federal investigators to conduct their own review of the March 26 fire that took the lives of Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy.
The Boston Fire Department has set up its own board of inquiry headed by Deputy Chief Michael Doherty, who was not himself involved in the response to the Back Bay fire. The panel will look at everything from response, tactics, and radio transmissions to equipment and water supply, said Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald. But any department can also benefit from an outside review, and thus Hassan has asked the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to take an independent look at the fire that broke out in a four-story building on Beacon Street on a day when high winds buffeted the city.
Each year, an average of 90 to 100 firefighters die in the line of duty. According to the NIOSH website, the mission in the aftermath of such events is not to find fault or place blame on a fire department or individual firefighters. The mission is to come up with recommendations that could prevent future firefighter deaths. That’s a goal the Boston Fire Department should embrace, as it continues to mourn the deaths of two brave colleagues.