Firefighter Jason Arno was found dead Wednesday inside a badly burned brick building in the city’s downtown, several hours after he radioed a mayday call and then went quiet as the fire raged.
“Just a great all-around person,” Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said of Arno, who had a 3-year-old daughter. The commissioner called him “an exemplary firefighter and employee” who had his whole future in front of him.
Mayor Byron Brown on Thursday said federal and state agencies would be involved in investigating the fire and what led to Arno’s death.
The firefighter was 30 to 40 feet inside the building when he issued his mayday call, which led to the emergency evacuation of everyone inside, the commissioner said. Arno was not heard from again.
The building was relatively clear when firefighters first entered it, Renaldo said Thursday at a news conference. But firefighters soon were faced with a partial collapse and an explosive backdraft—captured on video—that sent flames, smoke and debris shooting from the first floor windows and knocked firefighters outside to the sidewalk.
Renaldo said the abrupt introduction of oxygen when a fire is smoldering can cause the oxygen to be “sucked into the building and blown back.”
“A backdraft is a very rare occurrence,” he said. “The building was clear, which is the case many times when we enter a structure. So it was safe to enter at the time and the chief made that determination. I cannot say there were any mistakes made at that fire.”
Demolition of the building has been suspended, the mayor said, while the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and New York state fire officials assist the Buffalo Fire Department in conducting a review.
While the cause remains under investigation, Renaldo has speculated that heat from blowtorches being used on the building’s exterior may have transferred through brick or mortar and ignited paper or other combustibles inside. The building, which housed a theatrical costumes shop, was unoccupied when the fire started, he said.
Brown requested that city landmarks be lit in red in Arno’s honor beginning Thursday. City flags were flying at half-staff.
By Carolyn Thompson