State lawmakers are debating two proposals this week aimed at fixing weaknesses in the Boston Fire Department in reaction to the 2014 Back Bay blaze that claimed the lives of two firefighters.
One proposal would boost funding for the hazardous materials unit to $475,000 from last year’s $238,000 and double the training academy budget from $1.75 million to – $3.5 million. State aid to BFD has not increased since it began in 2008, said fire spokesman Steve MacDonald.
The second proposal would create a ‘hot works commission’ to oversee and better monitor welding and heat-related construction.
Both proposals by state Rep. Nick Collins (D-South Boston) are in response to recent reports calling for better training, staffing and equipment in the wake of the March 26, 2014, blaze that killed fire Lt. Edward J. Walsh and firefighter – Michael R. Kennedy at a Beacon Street brownstone.
‘Doubling funding is a crucial step … in preventing similar tragedies going – forward,’ Collins said.
A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report noted contributing factors – including a lack of training on wind-driven fires – that worsened the blaze, which was started by unpermitted welding on an adjacent building.
Such training could have better prepared Walsh and Kennedy for what they walked into that day, and a hot works commission might have made the fire less likely in the first place, said fire Commissioner – Joseph Finn.
The department also needs more training around occupational risks such as cancer from materials – including plastics and flame retardants, Finn said.
Since 1990, 180 firefighters have died of occupational cancer, he said.
‘We get new diagnoses every two or three weeks,’ Finn said.
The department also needs funding for its hazmat unit to prepare for potential terrorist attacks and incidents at any of the city’s more than 5,000 laboratories, he said.