Faulty radios were one serious problem during a March fire at Salisbury Millwork where two firefighters were killed, according to an analysis released by the Salisbury Fire Department on Tuesday.
As a team of firefighters worked to contain a blaze from spreading into a large manufacturing area, they could hear their commanders give them orders. But they increasingly had trouble being heard – a problem that could have complicated any possible rescue.
The report said the old radios could fall out of frequency when dropped, or subjected to vigorous activity. Salisbury fire Chief Bob Parnell said his department received new radios this week that shouldn't fail.
It's unclear whether full communications would have saved firefighters Victor Isler and Justin Monroe, who were killed in the March 7 blaze.
The transcript of radio calls shows the captain of Isler and Monroe's team – known as quint 4 – made brief radio contact two minutes before he issued a mayday call. The report said he spoke with distress.
Parnell said if the radios were working, “it's possible things could have turned out differently.”
The N.C. Department of Labor in August cited the fire department for violating state rules in fighting the fire, such as allowing Monroe to exit and re-enter a burning building alone.
The early-morning fire at Salisbury Millwork started above a false ceiling in a basement. It then spread from the basement to an office on the first floor.
As firefighters battled the blaze, radio traffic showed they alternated between attacking the fire, then pulling back and trying a new strategy. Firefighters could have surrounded the blaze from three sides. But to keep the small fire from engulfing the entire millwork, Isler and Monroe's team went inside the manufacturing area to spray water on a firewall.
Two hours after the blaze started, the fire spilled over the firewall and into the manufacturing area, which was full of sawdust and other combustible materials.
Besides the two deaths, Barkley was pulled from the building with first- and second-degree burns.
Immediately after the fire, Parnell said he was concerned as to why the team was inside the millwork, after at least two radio calls for firefighters to pull out and leave. There was no one inside the building, and firefighters didn't believe anyone needed to be saved.
The report didn't address the decision to send in quint 4.
Parnell said Tuesday in an interview that the decision was correct.
The earlier “code red” calls, he said, were made to account for all firefighters and to plot a new strategy – not an admission they were giving up on saving the entire building. Parnell also said that when the team went inside the manufacturing area, it appeared safe.
“After talking to firefighters, the conditions weren't considered hazardous, or imminently dangerous,” Parnell said. “There was a little bit of smoke, but they had good visibility.”
The vast majority of the building could have been saved by containing the fire in the office, he said.
Quint 4 also had trouble getting water pressure before the fire spread.
Parnell said he's not sure if their hose burned, or whether it ripped.
The city recently created a panel of four fire experts to review the department.