Woman Files Lawsuit Over Husband’s 2012 Firefighter Training Death
25 September 2014No Comments
A woman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the instructors and course designers of a smoke jumpers class in Texas, claiming that their negligence caused the death of her firefighter husband in 2012. The wrongful death suit was brought by Penelope M. Smith in the Jefferson County District Court on July 31, and names as defendants the East Texas Firemen’s & Fire Marshals’ Association, the State Firemen’s & Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, the Industrial Safety Training Council, Dennis M. Gifford, William N. Rains and John Does 1-10. If you have lost a loved one because of the negligence of another person or party in Texas, contact our wrongful death attorneys at Bandas Law Firm today for legal help.
Firefighter Died During Training Exercise
According to court documents, Neal Wade Smith, a captain with the Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department, enrolled in a two-day smoke divers course in September 2012, where he collapsed and died during a training exercise. “Neal Wade Smith was a Navy veteran, a captain in his volunteer fire department, and the sole provider for his wife and two children,” the wrongful death claim states. “One weekend, he attended a firefighter continuing education class in Beaumont. He expected to learn advanced techniques in the use of oxygen tanks. What he got was deadly hazing and physical abuse.”
Smoke Divers Course Likened to “Hazing”
The “smoke divers” training class that Smith participated in was first developed by the defendants in 1996, and, according to the lawsuit, the objective of the class is for firefighters to “learn how to survive – while wearing full gear – if their oxygen tanks run out of air during a fire.” The courses are designed to be extremely challenging and intensely physical, but “Having completed the course themselves, the instructors approached the smoke divers training as a fraternity-style hazing to sort out which firefighters were tough enough to display the smoke divers’ completion badge on their uniforms,” the lawsuit states.
Captain Smith reportedly decided to attend the smoke divers course in 2011, and immediately began an “extensive training and fitness program” that included bicycle riding and cardio workouts at the gym, during which he lost nearly 80 pounds. During the actual course, attorneys representing Penelope Smith wrote, it was “one thing to labor through grueling drills in 120-degree temperatures while wearing sweat-soaked, 75-pound gear for two 10-hour days,” and “another to do so while instructors threw firecrackers at him, ensnared him with bungee cords, yelled that he was a ‘p***y,’ and forced him to ‘cool off’ on metal bleachers on a sunny concrete slab.”
Instructors Ignored Signs of Distress
During the final training exercise, Capt. Smith was on the second floor of a six-story building when he began experiencing problems with his oxygen tank, which the instructors ignored. On the fifth floor, Smith allegedly began experiencing breathing problems and had to kneel, at which point the instructors told the other students to go around him. Once Smith stopped responding, it was several minutes before the instructors cleared the course and paramedics evacuated him, but by that time, he had no pulse. Once he was transported to the hospital, Smith’s internal temperature was recorded at 107.9 degrees, and he was diagnosed with hyperthermia, severe dehydration, heat stroke, and complications of heat stroke.
Defendants Allegedly Failed to Take Precautions
The day after Smith was transported to the hospital, doctors pronounced him brain dead and removed life support, but his organs were so badly damaged, they could not be donated. Upon investigating the incident, the Texas Fire Marshal and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health determined that Capt. Smith’s heat injuries could have been prevented if the defendants had taken even minimal precautions. According to the wrongful death complaint, the defendants “chose to ignore routing safety concerns and obvious signs of heat emergencies, costing Capt. Smith his life.” As a result, Penelope Smith is seeking monetary relief of more than $1 million for the wrongful death of her husband.