Investigators to focus on 'extraordinary' event at fire that killed two firefighters

Boston and federal officials are opening investigations into the fatal 298 Beacon St. fire that could take months to complete.

"It's still too early to determine just what happened," BFD spokesman Steve MacDonald said this morning.

He said the department will convene a board of inquiry consisting of chiefs who did not respond to the fire to conduct an investigation. NIOSH, a federal agency, will also investigate, he said.

A key focus, he said, will be determining the exact nature of the "extraordinary" event that led the firefighters to issue a rare Mayday call and trapped them in the basement.

They hit the mayday but the problem, of course, is the sheer volume of fire and it was some kind of extraordinary incident, almost all of us believe it was wind related.

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It was almost like a Katabatic wind.

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The humidity was unusually low in tandem with violent wind gusts coming in from the west.

Out west they are called Santa Ana winds or Washoe Zephyrs, mistrals in France and maybe Simooms in the Sahara.

And the Beacon St alignment made it like a bellows stoking the flame.

Daylight Basements

These houses along Beacon and then along Bay State have "walk out" basements in the rear. In the one I lived in, which was not apartmentized, that area was the kitchen. It was fully underground in front, but only about two feet down from the driveway in back so that deliveries could be made.

So, when they say "basement", in the rear it is really a half-submerged first floor. There may be a subbasement, for sewer and water and electricity to come in.

Knowing this, and having lived in a similarly situated building, I could see how the wind could turn a basement fire into a blast furnace.

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Listening to the

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Listening to the transmissions on the MayDay channel, what seems most inexplicable is that, over the course of ten minutes, Engine 33 repeatedly requests water to be sent down their line in the basement. Maybe the line got cut or obstructed by the blaze. But just listening, it's hard to understand.

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Re: Listening to the MayDay channel...

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@anon 1143am: I couldn't agree more. Haunting radio traffic for what seemed like forever, Engine 33, presumably Lt. Walsh, calmly asking for water in the basement at first, then asking more urgently, and finally in a voice of sheer terror, screaming that "it's getting hot in here, I need that water" and "are they coming to get me?" and ending in "goodbye." I can't imagine what was going through his mind. Listening to it a second time, it sounded like the E-33 pump was sending water, at one point the pump man says he is running low, but the water wasn't getting to the men in the basement. I've listened to thousands of hours of police and fire radio and that was by far the most chilling. At this morning's presser, a female reporter finally asked the BFD's Steve MacDonald about the MayDay calls for water but his answer seemed more aligned with water pressure not the specific calls from the E-33 crew in the basement. Someone should follow-up with questions specific to the radio transmissions requesting water in that ten minute span before communication was lost with E-33. Like you, a cut line or a line burned through in the backdraft also crossed my mind. God Bless Lt. Walsh, FF Kennedy and their families. Tragic.

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