Firefighter Friday: Jessica Locke on Runaway Engine 13 (part two)

(Boston Globe)


Recently released video of the investigation into Engine 13 casts serious doubt on the report issued by Jack Laine of AJL Associates, which claimed human error on the part of the driver. The accident – which took place on May 15, 2007 – severely injured Lt. Rich Geary when the truck took off under its own power, running him over.

The report by AJL states:  “{Engine 13} was indeed in the “Road position” otherwise the truck under discussion, also known as engine #13 would not have moved.  In our opinion, human error is the major underlining factor in this accident.”

However, there is no explanation of the “human error” in the report. 

Though Laine never comes out and says it, the crucial point of his conclusion centers around the green indicator lights in the cab: Did the driver put the pump shift lever into the correct position, which turns the lights on…or not? 

The video clearly shows the truck malfunctioning. With the pump shift lever in the correct position, the green lights illuminate even though the truck transmission fails to “lock up” to produce water pressure.  This is what the driver stated happened the night of the accident, and what was witnessed by Lt. Rich Geary prior to the accident.  In addition, State Police photos taken the night of the accident show that the pump shift lever is in the correct position.

(The Police Report erroneously stated that the green light was a warning sign to the driver that he was in the wrong gear, and blamed the driver for ignoring it, thus their conclusion of “human error”.)

In an interview after the reports came out, Laine was asked directly what the driver did.  Laine replied, “He made a mistake.”  When asked what that mistake was, he said, “I don’t know what he did.”  In another interview with a TAB reporter, Laine said, “He had a lapse of judgment.” Laine offered no further information as to the driver’s actions. 

In the video, Laine is shown agreeing with Ralph Craven (the investigator hired by the Newton Firefighters Association), that there were numerous mechanical problems with the apparatus. Laine goes so far as to say in reference to Engine 13,  “it did not make the shift” and “there is an issue with the system”.  There is no reference to driver error.

 On camera, Laine suggests the possibility the gear malfunctions were caused by the towing of the rig out from the embankment after the night of the accident.  However, he is immediately refuted by Mr. Craven , who informed Laine that the apparatus suffered the same mechanical defects prior to the incident and were reported by two separate drivers.  Laine responds: “I haven’t talked to anybody at the scene with any of that information.”

 Laine never interviewed the driver.  Further, according to Ralph Craven, Laine never did any of his own tests on the pump transmission. Witnesses at the scene of the investigation stated that Mr. Craven was “running the show”. 

 Laine said in an interview with the TAB that he stood by the cab while Mr. Craven was underneath the engine.  However, in that same interview he said that he did not see anyone, including Craven, conduct an inspection to verify the unaligned gears.

 This is an erroneous statement, as Mr. Craven was not only taking measurements of the unaligned gears, but Laine referenced Mr. Craven’s measurements in his own report.

 Laine’s report indicated that Engine 13 should have been taken out of service because of mechanical issues.  It also recommended that the vehicle be decommissioned, because it did not meet applicable National Fire Protection Association Standards.

Laine was paid $1855.95  by the City of Newton for his investigation.

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