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Kilgore firefighter death lawsuit trial begins

By Glenn Evans
May 2, 2012 at 11 p.m.

The man sent to show Kilgore firefighters how to use a new ladder truck did not bring or use a safety belt before a January 2009 training exercise that resulted in the deaths of two firefighters, testimony in a wrongful death lawsuit revealed Wednesday.

Doug Fleming, an instructor with the maker of the 95-foot aerial platform truck the city of Kilgore bought in December 2008, also did not include the use of safety belts in the presentation he gave firefighters when the truck was delivered.

That's according to his testimony, provided by videotape Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by the widow, mother and two children of Kilgore firefighter Kyle Perkins.

The family is suing E-One and Hall-Mark Fire Apparatus, respectively the maker and distributor of the ladder truck.

Wednesday brought the first day of testimony before an eight-woman, four-man jury in 124th District Judge Alfonso Charles' courtroom in Longview. The case is expected to last into next week.

Alleging gross negligence, the family seeks unspecified punitive and other damages.

The lawsuit was separated from a consolidated lawsuit that still includes the city and the family of fireman Cory Galloway, who died in the Jan. 25, 2009, fall with Perkins. That case remains pending.

According to reports from the day, the two men were among four firefighters in the 18-square-foot platform being raised, in a training exercise, toward the roof of the eight-story Stark Hall dormitory at Kilgore College.

The platform, which had three walls and a door and is called a bucket, snagged on a 24-inch parapet on the dorm's roof.

The two men were thrust from the bucket, through a door designed to open only inward, when the platform jerked free of the overhanging lip of the roof.

An absence of safety belts, which wrap around the firefighter and attach to the bucket, was a focus of the opening day of testimony.

E-One's Fleming was shown a company memo, titled "Training Safety," which was dated almost a year before the fatal incident and told instructors to wear a safety belt when demonstrating the aerial bucket. The memo says that, in addition to the instructors' safety, the instruction was given so that customers would learn by that example.

"Well, they should know that," Fleming said in the taped deposition.

Earlier Wednesday, Kilgore firefighter Robert King testified that no one had worn a safety belt when the company demonstrated the ladder truck during a sales pitch in the spring or summer of 2008.

King also said the department brought its new ladder truck to a restaurant fire before the fatal training session. The restaurant, Cancun Dave's, was one story, but the truck was made to stream water from directly above a fire even if no one was in the bucket.

"There was some problem with it," King told Perkins family attorney John Walker. "So, we had to be in the bucket. ... We had to have somebody in there to operate the nozzle."



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