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Newspaper Report Focuses on Volunteer Firefighter Death Case
September 26, 2014

HOUSTON – The case of a Houston-area volunteer firefighter who was needlessly killed in a 2012 training exercise is the focus of a recent Houston Press cover story headlined, “When a Lesson Took a Dangerous Turn, a Room Full of Firefighters Couldn’t Save Neal Smith.”

The story chronicles the death of Capt. Neal Wade Smith, whose widow filed a wrongful death and gross negligence lawsuit in Beaumont state court against several firefighter training groups and individuals in charge of the deadly training exercise.

Attorney Adam Milasincic of Houston-based Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, filed the case on behalf of Capt. Smith’s wife, Penelope, and the couple’s two young children.

Capt. Smith died in September 2012 after collapsing during the training exercise. He was left lying on the ground as other students were instructed to walk around his body to continue the class. The U.S. Navy veteran had trained for a year to take the “smoke divers” course that claimed his life.

The Houston Press reports:

“Those last minutes before the 46-year-old’s brain death, and the events leading up to it, are detailed in state and federal reports that shed light on an obscure, unregulated training program for firefighters — mostly volunteer — based in Beaumont. The smoke diver program, a punishing weekend course meant to teach firefighters how to survive in dangerous conditions on little to no air from their self-contained breathing apparatus, was touted by the East Texas Firemen’s and Fire Marshal’s Association, a nonprofit trade group for volunteer firefighters. As an elite corps, smoke diver graduates are encouraged to share their new-found skills at their individual departments. They also get a nifty patch.”

At the end of the two-day course with 22 trainees, 13 completed the course, two students had washed out, two others went to the hospital, and four students did not return for the second day, saying they had safety concerns or the course wasn’t as advertised. And Smith was dead.

According to the subsequent investigations, what may have saved him — or at least increased his odds — was one very simple thing: a tub of ice water at the scene.”

The Texas Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal government investigated Capt. Smith’s tragic death and concluded that these defendants chose to ignore routine safety concerns and obvious signs of heat emergencies.

The lawsuit filed in Jefferson County District Court is Penelope M. Smith, et al. v. East Texas Firemen’s & Fire Marshals’ Association, et al.

Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized in Chambers USA 2014 among the best in Texas commercial law; U.S. News & World Report and The Best Lawyers in America as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms in 2014; and Law360 as one of only 13 Texas Powerhouse law firms. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 1000. Read more at www.azalaw.com

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