The Bedford Street Fire Tragedy: An Interview with HFD Captain James McLoughlin

This column appears in the March 13 – 20 edition of the Hartford News… Community Update: An agreement is close on one of the Community Party’s proposed Travon Martin Act amendments to the current Alvin W. Penn Act racial profiling law. Stay tuned to CP’s Twitter and Facebook pages for updates; the links are available at the end of this column. I would like to thank WPKN 89.5 FM Between the Lines host Scott Harris for having me on his show to discuss the Trayvon Act and our other legislative initiatives, including the Safe Work Environment Act, A Public Bank for Connecticut, and our Action Poverty Conference concept. The podcast of the interview is available in the Counterpoint archive section. Follow WPKN on Twitter. Connecticut workplace bullying activists are planning a march targeting state agencies that engage in abusive workplace conduct. Our message to bully bosses at Connecticut Valley Hospital, the Department  of Children and Families and other state facilities is that cowardly retaliation attempts will not stop this international movement. Your pathological behavior may make you feel better, but understand that you’re just emulating the actions of historical losers such as the Ku Klux Klan. Klansmen bombed a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, killing four little Black girls. The bombing was a response to the victories attained by the Civil Rights Movement. As we all know, the KKK’s scare tactics were no match for the courage of civil rights activists. Your megalomania only serves as more fuel for our movement. We can see that you are lashing out in response to the inevitable change that you fear. We will be at the State Capitol every year in an effort to pass legislation that will hold YOU accountable. 
 On January 28th a fire at a home on Bedford Street took the lives of 4-year-old Shantay Drake and her mother, Susan Therrien. Multiple media outlets reported that Hartford firefighters were delayed entering the home by security bars on the windows. I contacted Maribel La Luz, Mayor Pedro Segarra’s Communications Director, about these reports. La Luz referred me to Hartford Fire Department Captain James McLoughlin. My questions focused on the city’s low income residents as some live in buildings which are not properly maintained by landlords, consequently building code violations may include fire safety systems.
 I would like to know if the HFD, Mayor Segarra, City Council President Shawn Wooden and the council members intend to examine fire safety in low income housing, since firefighters were delayed entering the Bedford Street apartment by security bars. Obviously, this scenario could happen again. 
Captain McLoughlin:  
    The City of Hartford Fire Department is working on a comprehensive inspection program for ALL city residents.
·        This is not accurate. Firefighters were not delayed in entering the Bedford St home, even though there were security bars on the building.
S      Samuels:
H        A source told me that the HFD was going to prepare a briefing on the Bedford Street fire that would be shared with the public. Is this correct?  
           Captain McLoughlin:
                A briefing is being prepared, however is not ready for release at this time.
l            Samuels:  
               Has there been any discussion about providing fire safety training to low income housing residents?  
             Captain McLoughlin:    
T                 The HFD has a Public Education Program that addresses Fire Safety for ALL of Hartford’s residents
                I  need some clarification… You said that firefighters were not delayed, but this quote from the Courant appears to contradict that observation,
”             “The girl’s mother was at a side window, he said, but there was a problem: The same bars designed to keep out intruders were blocking her rescue.
               Firefighters had to rip out security bars to get her out, McLoughlin said — a process that he estimates took no more than a few minutes.” 
               The Philadelphia Fire Department considers security bars on windows to be a danger to city residents. The PFD specifically cites security bars as causing delays in fire rescues, ” Security bars and double-keyed dead bolts installed without knowledge of their effects during a fire have too often resulted in occupants being trapped inside a burning home, and have also delayed the rescue efforts of firefighters.”
      PFD lists the following recommendations: Security bars should be equipped with a quick release device that can be opened from the inside. Occupants should know how to operate the quick release device on barred windows. The bars on an emergency escape window and at least one of the bedroom windows should be equipped with a quick release device that opens from the inside. 
I      I’m assuming that the bars on the Bedford Street home did not have the quick release device. Don’t you think this is a problem that the HFD should examine?
       Captain McLoughlin:      

        The quote from the paper was information that was released at the scene. Since that time, a comprehensive review has been determined that the mother was actually rescued by firefighters out the rear door. No one was rescued through the window as was stated at the scene.
        I appreciate the reference to the Philadelphia Fire Department, however the Hartford Fire Department has to apply the codes which are enforced here in CT. Please be aware that no bedrooms at the Bedford St location had security bars on them, not even one.
        The security bars on the Bedford St home did not have quick release devices, however, the fact that there were security bars on some of the windows, had absolutely NO impact on the firefighters ability to enter the home, rescue occupants, put the fire out and ventilate the building. The HFD is examining this issue within the scope of their inspection program.

       Regardless of whether or not the rescue of an occupant of this particular home was delayed by security bars, the Bedford Street home is just one building out of many in this city. I must say, I’m deeply disturbed to hear that the PFD report is not enough justification for the HFD to address the fact that security bars without the quick release device are a dangerous fire hazard. My concern is that someone will have to die in the manner that the PFD describes before the HFD and the City of Hartford will follow the PFD report recommendations.  Would you support an ordinance which would make security bars with the quick release device mandatory?
Note: McLoughlin did not respond to my final question.

                                                               Action Alert (UPDATED): Stop Racial Profiling & Racial Profiling in Connecticut! 

      We need folks to call and email legislators in their districts and urge them to support the Trayvon Martin Act. Identify your legislators by providing your info on this page.   You can read our Trayvon Act bill language here.     
C    Contact the Labor and Public Employees Committee and tell them to include CP’s Safe Work Environment Act amendments with any workplace bullying legislation introduced in 2014. Our amendments remove the legal requirement for an employee to prove malice and intent by an employer, which is basically impossible. Workers should not have to prove psychological or physical harm. We also want lawmakers to create a workplace bullying advisory board, which would solicit and implement input from public employees when they recommend future legislation. In lieu of a complete workplace bullying bill in 2014 we want an amendment which has been introduced in Nevada by State Sen. Richard Segerblom to be added to the state discrimination law ( This would be done with the understanding that a complete Safe Work Environment Act bill including the aforementioned provisions will be introduced in 2015. Municipal employees should tell committee members to expand the scope of any legislation introduced this year to include city employees, in addition to state workers. City teachers have reported rampant workplace bullying at Capital Preparatory Magnet School. Call and email labor committee co-chairs Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield and Rep. Peter Tercyak and legislators representing your district.The contact info for committee members can be viewed here.
F   Follow CP on Twitter for state, national and global headlines and updates on the status of our Trayvon Martin Act and Safe Work Environment Act, including action alerts. Visit our Facebook page.   Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for public service announcements on CP’s racial justice initiatives. Contact us at 860-206-8879 or

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