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Family of Fallen FF Files Wrongful Death Suit

Family of Fallen FF Files Wrongful Death Suit

Boston Globe via YellowBrix

November 02, 2010

The family of Lieutenant Kevin M. Kelley of the Boston Fire Department filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday against six companies contracted by the city to inspect or maintain the braking systems on the firetruck he died in last year.

Kelley died Jan. 9, 2009, after Boston Fire Department Ladder 26 suffered catastrophic brake failure and careered down Parker Hill Avenue in Mission Hill, crashing through a brick wall and into a building on Huntington Avenue.

Named in the suit are Bay State Auto Spring Manufacturing Co. of Roxbury; Boston Freightliner Inc. of Everett; Broadway Brake Corp. of Somerville; Damian Diesel Inc. of Avon; Suspension Specialists Inc. of Allston; and Woodward’s Auto Spring Shop Inc. of Brockton.

The suit alleges that the companies were grossly negligent, provided faulty brake work, installed the wrong parts, and failed to recognize the mistakes through proper inspection, which curtailed the truck’s ability to stop, resulting in the fatal crash.

“We didn’t really do anything to that vehicle,’’ said Philip D’Angelo, president of Broadway Brake. “We did a state inspection on that vehicle a year before, so I know it’s not going anywhere as far as we’re concerned. We didn’t do anything to it. What I’ve done is hand [the lawsuit] over to my insurance company, and they’ll deal with it.’’

Damian Frattasil, president of Damian Diesel, said his company, which is no longer in business, never worked on the truck’s brakes and only “looked at’’ its engine.


Lieutenant Kevin M. Kelley

“We never worked on the brakes. We never worked on the front end. We never worked on anything that was involved in that accident,’’ Frattasil said. “Anybody that even looked at anything with that truck has been pulled into this mess.’’

Representatives from the other companies did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that, over time, the defendants improperly installed and replaced brake linings and brake chambers with the wrong parts and repeatedly failed to recognize the mistakes in several inspections and service calls, leaving Ladder 26 with severely reduced brakes in the right rear wheels and no braking power in the left rear wheels.

The plaintiffs are Kelley’s daughter, Susan, and widow, Gloria, who are seeking unspecified financial damages.

“My father was a good man and a hero to the end,’’ Susan Kelley, said in a statement yesterday. “I hope that these mistakes will be prevented from happening again so that no other firefighter will have to die needlessly.’’

“Lieutenant Kevin Kelley’s tragic death was preventable and unnecessary,’’ said James E. Byrne, a Boston-based attorney representing the Kelley family. “The repeated failure of these outside service vendors to provide proper maintenance, install the correct braking components, and recognize and correct their mistakes through proper inspection was inexcusable.’’

Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser said he had not reviewed the lawsuit yet and declined to comment. Dot Joyce, press secretary for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, declined to comment on the pending litigation.

On the day of the crash, Ladder 26 was clearing from a medical call for an elderly man who had been having trouble breathing. As the crew descended Parker Hill Avenue to return to their firehouse on Huntington Avenue, the brakes failed. Kelley, who was riding in the front passenger seat, grabbed the truck’s horn to alert pedestrians and drivers, as the runaway ladder truck gained speed. All four firefighters and several people in the building hit by the firetruck were injured. Kelley died of massive head trauma.

In December 2009, a report on an investigation by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said the main cause of the crash was brake failure, probably the result of years of “insufficient and substandard’’ maintenance, Conley said.

“An examination of the truck found reduced braking power on both front wheels, significantly reduced braking power on the rear right wheel, and nonexistent brakes on the rear left,’’ the report indicated.

The investigation also blasted the city and the Fire Department for failing to provide adequate training on how to handle firetrucks in emergency situations, causing the city to revamp its training procedures and gut its maintenance division.

Truck maintenance, which had been conducted by union firefighters, now falls under a separate civilian division. All mechanics need to have trucking and emergency vehicle certifications to work on apparatus, but brake work has always been outsourced to independent contractors, said Steve MacDonald, Fire Department spokesman.

“Boston’s taxpayers paid these outside vendors good money to perform services which are essential to the safety of the Boston firefighters,’’ Byrne said yesterday in a phone interview. “These companies failed to perform that work properly, and it’s just inexcusable."