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Hamilton Fire Department Makes Changes After 2015 Firefighter Death

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Pool coverage/ Hartong Digital Media
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A Hamilton Fire Department honor guard carries the casket of Patrick Wolterman into the church in 2015.

More than three years after a Hamilton firefighter died while fighting a fire that was intentionally set, the Hamiton Fire Department is out with an internal report on how to prevent such tragedies.

In a release, Chief Mark Mercer outlined the improvements made to prevent future line of duty deaths like that of Firefighter Patrick Wolterman. Mercer says there have been significant changes in the areas of:

  • Officer development and training
  • Operational policies
  • Live fire training drills
  • Systematic approach to revamp alarm and fire ground communication

The recommendations follow a 2017 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report looking at the death. A committee of firefighters and officers looked at the NIOSH report and identified five contributing factors.

  • Arson: The fire was intentionally set using gasoline and in a manner to delay the discovery of the fire
  • Communication: All current practices were followed at the time, but improvements in timing, alarm information and fire ground communications were necessary
  • Initially it was hard to determine the location of the fire in the structure due to weather conditions and the initial incorrect report of occupants in the structure, the cellar fire was not identified
  • Openings were made or enlarged prior to entry. The cellar doors were opened, providing fresh air to the undiscovered fire.
  • Equipment: Not all available communications equipment was used by firefighting personnel during the fire.
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Credit provided
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Hamilton Firefighter Patrick Wolterman died in 2015 after falling through the floor.

"We have constructed response models which improve our overall fire response," Chief Mercer says. "We have addressed communications gaps in our system and improved the expectation to identify, share and receive emergency communications ... We are committed to continuous improvement to ensure the safety of our firefighters and citizens alike."

A jury found Lester Parker and his nephew Billy Tucker guilty of arson and murder for setting the Dec. 28, 2015 fire. Wolterman died after falling through the floor while responding to the blaze.

Judge Greg Stephens handed down a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the eligibility of parole in 15 years.

Prosecutors say Parker enlisted Tucker's help to burn his home in order to collect the insurance money. Both men denied those allegations when testifying in their own defenses.