While fighting that fire, both officers lost their lives, and a just-concluded investigation is highlighting a number of contributing factors to this tragedy. Now, officials with the Toledo Firefighters Local 92 are pointing to policies put in place by the Toledo fire administration as major factors in the loss.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigation and report, Pvts. Machcinski and Dickman became trapped inside the two-story apartment building while it was still in flames. They suffered severe burns and carbon-monoxide inhalation, and were pronounced dead at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center later that day. Machincinski, 42, was a 15 year veteran, while Dickman, 31, had only served the department since September 3, 2013.
The report lists eight major factors that contributed to their deaths, according to The Toledo Blade. Those factors were arson, risk assessment and scene size-up, resource deployment, fireground tactics, inadequate water supply, crew staffing, no full-time safety officer, and no sprinkler system in the building. The two major factors that have the union pointing their fingers at the fire administration are the staffing and lack of safety officers.
Jeff Romstadt, the President of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, told reporters that back in the 1990s, then-fire Chief Mike Bell required three or four full-time safety officers to serve with the department. Each of these officers were either lieutenants or captains. Their major job was to ensure that proper protocol and best practices were followed during every fire the department responded to. Unfortunately, in 2012, these full-time positions were eliminated and replaced with a new policy that stated everyone would receive 2.5-3 hours of instruction on safety. This is a far cry from the 16 hours of training required to become a certified safety officer.
During the January 26th fire, two engine companies with firefighters who had the then-required training showed up to the scene, according to the Norwalk Reflector. Unfortunately, their experience was “minimal” due to the fact they primarily acted on emergency medical service runs.
Another major factor cited was a problem with staffing. Nearly 1/3 of the firefighters that were assigned to field operations at the time of the fire had less than two years of job experience. 18 of the firefighters who responded were still in their probationary period with only six officers. This was far less than the recommended one-to-one ratio of probationary firefighters to officer according to Romstadt.
Whether it was due to a lack of experience or a lack of seasoned firefighters responding to the scene, one of the most egregious errors that occurred during the fire was when numerous doors were opened at the scene while firefighters were still inside the burning building, allowing more oxygen to feed the flames and ultimately take the lives of two firefighters.
Thankfully, in June of 2014, the full-time safety officer positions were reinstated to the department, but the Union is pushing to have each of the factors carefully examined, and all of the recommendations from the report implemented.