Chief says escape gear, cut from budget, would not have helped

kt logoKingston’s fire chief says a lack of escape gear, which was cut from the city’s 2011 budget, played no role in injuries sustained by two firefighters who were badly hurt when they fell from a porch roof after becoming trapped in a burning building on Dec. 29. Meanwhile, cops are investigating a second blaze at the same Midtown address just a few days later.

Kingston firefighters Thomas Metzger and Brian Renn were injured while escaping the blaze at 78 Franklin St. just a few days before the new year. The fire, which investigators later traced to a short circuit in a cable powering a hot water heater, broke out in the basement of the single family home around 4:30 p.m. in the midst of a snowstorm. Metzger and Renn entered the house to conduct a search of the second floor to ensure no one was inside. But after completing the sweep, the men found themselves trapped by flames which had damaged the staircase and blocked their exit. The men then climbed through a second-story window onto the roof of the home’s porch in a bid to reach a ladder placed there by there by fellow firefighters to aid their escape. According to Fire Chief John Reinhardt, both men lost their footing on the icy roof and rolled off to the ground below, sustaining serious injuries in the process.

Metzger suffered a broken elbow and damaged wrist. After receiving treatment at KingstonHospital, followed by an evaluation at NorthernDutchessHospital’s orthopedic unit, Metzger was taken to NYUMedicalCenter for reconstructive surgery. His recovery, Reinhardt said, is expected to take at least six months. Renn sustained a collapsed lung. He was treated at AlbanyMedicalCenter and is expected to return to duty next week.

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Neither man, Reinhardt said, was equipped with an escape rope. The ropes (or more commonly, nylon webbing) have been mandated by state law since last year. The law was prompted by “Black Sunday” — a 2005 incident when two New York City firefighters were killed and another badly injured after encroaching flames forced them to jump from the fourth floor of a Bronx tenement. In 2011, with the state legislation pending, the Common Council and then-mayor James Sottile signed off on a budget that cut out an allocation for the escape gear, citing fiscal constraints. The failure to provide escape ropes is one of some 27 disciplinary charges filed against former deputy chief and acting chief Chris Rea, who has been on unpaid leave since January 2012. Rea, who served as the department’s safety officer, has said that he did not provide the gear because there was no money in the budget to pay for it.

No impact

But, Reinhardt said, escape ropes would likely not have altered the outcome of the Franklin Street fire. The firefighters, according to Reinhardt, never issued a “Mayday” call indicting serious trouble. According to the chief, they intended to step out of a window onto a roof and make their way to a ladder, not leap two stories with nothing to break their fall.

“This was not an escape-rope type of situation,” said Reinhardt. “Even if they had the ropes they wouldn’t have taken the time to hook them up because they thought they were just stepping out onto a roof.”

Coincidentally, the fire occurred just two days after the department learned that it had been awarded a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to purchase about 70 escape systems for city firefighters. The announcement came after the Common Council, voted to approve a bond issue to pay for the safety gear. The nylon webbing, which will become a standard item in every Kingston firefighter’s turnout gear, allows firefighters to hook up to a solid object and descend about four stories in the event they become trapped inside a building. Reinhardt said that the safety systems, which are expected to cost about $45,000, will go out to bid within a week or so and should be in service within the next few months.

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