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Bradley Golden – Still Tragic Fifteen Years Later

I wrote this story in 2003 and first released it on September 25th of that year; two years after the tragic death of then 19 year-old Firefighter Bradley Golden, who died in a live burn training exercise in Lairdsville, New York. I have posted it every year since then to keep a promise; to honor and to remember Brad. I do not do it to keep the emotional wounds fresh. I do it because there are so many important lessons to be gained by reviewing the investigative material and the questions put forth by fellow firefighters. I consider it my best work to date.


It is a lengthy article that is emotional, analytical and factual. Opinions, suppositions and questions from firefighters throughout this country are included. Readers will have their own questions.


It is a story that sparked numerous discussions among the nation’s firefighters.


From NFPA 1403 to the age and experience of some of the officers involved, it compelled us to examine the needless and preventable death of a young firefighter who placed his trust in his fellow firefighters with deadly results. Brad and fellow firefighter, Ben Morris did not KNOW enough to recognize the safety lapses that killed Brad and seriously injured Ben. Adam Croman, ironically the safety officer for the training, was also injured.


I believe that it brought NFPA 1403 into the national limelight. No longer could departments ignore the requirements of the standard. In New York, “Bradley’s Law” was passed, making it a criminal offense to use live victims in a live burn training exercise. Here is an example of legislating what should have been common sense.


At the time, though much of the attention of the nation was on 9/11 and its aftermath, Brad’s story came to serve as a reminder that we can never take lightly the important task of keeping each other safe; be it at a training exercise or at an incident.


Please join me in remembering Bradley Golden, who left us way too soon fifteen years ago. Keep his family in your thoughts and pray that no one suffers what he suffered.



The Tragic Death of Bradley Golden

First Published 9/25/03




On September 25, 2001, Brad Golden had been on the Lairdsville Fire Department for three weeks; just enough time to die!


Brad was the victim of a training exercise that went terribly wrong. It was to be a joint, live-burn training exercise with Lowell, Westmoreland and Lairdsville fire departments. It was to be an evening exercise; one that he could have very easily chosen not to attend. He had committed to being there and he was a young man who kept his word and his commitments.


As it were on this day, Brad could have gone out with friends. But, according to his stepfather, Bob Roberts, Brad was “all pumped up about the practice”. Nothing was going to come between Brad and his dream of being a firefighter; a dream that he had held since his days in Clark Mills, where he would watch the firefighters there. The sirens, the flash of the big rigs going by and the looks on the faces of the firefighters as they went by were too powerful to resist. Brad was hooked at an early age.


Brad got to live his dream for three, short weeks. His turnout gear had been given to him during the previous week to the training exercise. Although he had not trained to be inside of a structure under fire conditions, he was to play a “victim” for the live-burn and there is the tragic irony. By playing the victims, Brad Golden and Ben Morris became real victims! Ben Morris, a firefighter of less than one year and Adam Croman, RIT consultant and second floor safety officer, were seriously injured as well.


Ben Morris only remembers “waking up” and laying on the ground outside of the structure. Adam Croman escaped from the fiery upstairs by dropping out of a second story window and to the ground. Gary Spaven, a second assistant chief and rear sector guide for the RIT exercise escaped out a window, after calling for a ladder and Alan Baird III, the lead training instructor for the exercise and first assistant chief for the Lairdsville Fire Department, went out the back of the structure when conditions inside became untenable.

Brad Golden was the last one taken from the structure. Reports say that he was not breathing and attempts to revive him at the scene and while enroute to the hospital were unsuccessful.


The coroner’s official cause of death was asphyxia due to smoke inhalation. Many physiological changes take place in the body when poisonous compounds are introduced into the body. It is important to understand that, because….


Bradley Golden was dead at age 19.


NIOSH Report


As a practice, NIOSH does not include names in the published summary of their findings. I am listing the names and their roles in this incident at the beginning for clarity.


Victim – Bradley Golden

Firefighter #1 – Benjamin Morris

Firefighter #2/Safety & Ignition Officer – Adam Croman

Chief – Westmoreland Chief James Kimball

1st Assistant Chief/Instructor – Alan Baird III

2nd Assistant Chief/Safety Officer – Gary Spaven

Trapped firefighters – Victim Bradley Golden and Firefighter #1 Benjamin Morris


The final Death in the Line of Duty report was published on October 31, 2002. In its summary, NIOSH stated that:


On September 25, 2001, a 19 year-old male volunteer firefighter (the victim) died and two male volunteer firefighters (Firefighter #1 and Firefighter #2) were injured during a multi-agency, live-burn training session. The victim and Firefighter #1 were playing the role of firefighters who had become trapped on the second-level of the structure. The training became reality when the fire was started and progressed up the stairwell, accelerated by a foam mattress that was ignited on the first floor. Firefighter #1 and the victim were recovered from the second-level front bedroom where they had been placed for the training. Firefighter #2 jumped from a second-level window in the rear bedroom. The victim was unresponsive when removed from the structure. Advanced life-saving procedures were initiated on the victim en route to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Firefighter #1 and Firefighter #2 suffered severe burns and were airlifted to an area burn unit.


Introduction. On September 25, 2001, a firefighter (the victim) died and two firefighters (Firefighter #1 and Firefighter #2) were injured while participating in a multi-agency, live-burn training session. The victim and Firefighter #1 were playing the role of firefighters who had become trapped in a structure on the second level.



On September 27, 2001, the United States Fire Administration notified the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of this incident. On December 4-5, 2001, two safety and occupational health specialists and the section chief from the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program investigated this incident. Interviews were conducted with the Chief, the Assistant Chiefs, and firefighters of the departments from the district involved in the training session. The department that was operating the training was disbanded. Copies of their standard operating procedures were not available for review. The training records of the victim and injured firefighters were reviewed.


The fire district involved in this multi-agency training session operated from four volunteer stations and was comprised of 102 active members. The district serves a population of approximately 25,000 in a geographic area of about 25 square miles. The victim had been a volunteer firefighter for just a few weeks and had not received any formalized training before the incident. Firefighter #1 was reported to have received Basic Firefighting Essentials, Maze Training, and Live Tower Training, but no documentation was provided during the investigation. Firefighter #2 was documented to have completed Firefighting Essentials, Pump Operator, Commanding the Initial Response, Apparatus Operator, and Hazardous Materials First Responder Operations. The site was a two-story, side-by-side duplex. Vacant and in disrepair, the duplex was scheduled for demolition in the near future by the owner.


Investigation. At approximately 1845 hours, Firefighter #1, Firefighter #2, the victim, the 1st Assistant Chief, and the 2nd Assistant Chief were on the scene discussing the plan for a rescue drill during live-burn training. The 1st Assistant Chief was the instructor. The 2nd Assistant Chief was a Safety Officer for the west unit of the duplex. Firefighter #2 was a Safety Officer for the east unit and the Ignition Officer. The following apparatus were on the scene before the start of the training: Engine #451 equipped with a 1,000-gallon water tank, Engine #3 equipped with a 1,000-gallon water tank, Heavy Rescue #449, Rescue #1, Truck #459 and a 10,000-gallon water tanker (building owner’s).


The training scenario was designed to include two firefighters who had become trapped while conducting a search for an infant in a bedroom located on the second floor of a duplex apartment. Note: The firefighters that were used to simulate victims during this training session will be referred to as the “trapped firefighters” throughout this report. Engine #451 was to hook up to the owner’s water tanker on site and have two 1-3/4 hand lines stretched to the structure, one hand line to the rear entrance and one hand line to the front entrance of the east unit. Engine #3 and Heavy Rescue #449 were then dispatched to stage approximately ¾ of a mile away to practice their response to the scene. The scenario included blocking the door to the stairs of the unit (east unit) leading to the “trapped firefighters” to simulate that the stairs had collapsed. The responding units would have to deploy a rapid intervention team (RIT), which would then be forced to access the second floor via the stairs on the other side of the duplex. Once on the second floor, the RIT would breach the wall leading to the other apartment to conduct a search for the “trapped firefighters” and the infant. Note: The wall on the second floor separating the two units had been breached during earlier training sessions. The “trapped firefighters” (Firefighter #1 and the victim) were placed in the front bedroom with some debris scattered about the floor and a Ping-Pong table placed upon them to simulate a real entrapment. Note: This was reportedly the first time the victim had worn a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in a fire condition. Firefighter #1 had approximately 1 year with the department and minimal experience with an SCBA in fire conditions. A burn barrel was to be used to produce smoke and simulate fire from the back bedroom of the east duplex.


The 2nd Assistant Chief was positioned with a 20-pound fire extinguisher on the second floor of the west unit to guide the RIT up the stairs and through the breach in the wall. He was to ensure the RIT did not go through an opening in the back wall of the west unit. Firefighter #2 was on the second floor of the east unit where he was to place the “trapped firefighters” in the front bedroom, light the burn barrel in the back bedroom, and guide the RIT if necessary (Refer to official report for Diagram #1). The Chief arrived on the scene and did a walkthrough of the upstairs to ensure safety and to make sure no accelerants were used in the burn barrel. He then proceeded to the front of the duplex and took over outside command as requested by the 1st Assistant Chief, who had interior command from the first floor of the burn unit (Refer to official report for Diagram #2).


Firefighter #2 struck a flare and lit the burn barrel on the second floor and radioed to the Chief at approximately 1855 hours that it was lit. He then positioned himself in the hallway to guide the RIT if necessary. The barrel was not producing smoke, so Firefighter #2 went to the back bedroom to assist in the process. During this time, the 1st Assistant Chief struck another flare on the first floor and lit the foam mattress of a sleeper sofa that was extended adjacent to the open side of the stairs.


Firefighter #2 heard the second flare being struck and went to investigate. In a matter of seconds, the flames began to roll across the ceiling, up the stairs, and out the front windows of the burn unit, producing what was described as a thick, “steamy” smoke. The 2nd Assistant Chief was cut off from the east unit by the fire extending up the stairwell. He exited via a ladder through an opening in the back wall of the west unit. The 1st Assistant Chief went out the back of the structure to locate a hand line. Unable to locate a hand line in the back of the structure, he searched for a hand line at the front of the structure. Note: No hand lines had been stretched from Engine #451 before the start of the training evolution. Flames were now extending out of the first-floor bay window into the front bedroom. He then pulled 200 feet of 1-3/4 inch preconnect off Engine #451 and advanced the line to the rear of the structure.


Firefighter #2 went to retrieve the “trapped firefighters” from the front bedroom where flames were already coming through the windows from downstairs. Firefighter #2 grabbed the two “trapped firefighters” and led them to the stairwell, which was fully engulfed. Firefighter #2 lost his fire gloves in the process, exposing the leather gloves he had worn underneath. The leather gloves immediately burned and adhered to his skin. He and the “trapped firefighters” became separated. Firefighter #2 made it to the back bedroom where the burn barrel was located. Conditions in the back bedroom were extremely smoky with little heat. Firefighter #2 frantically searched for the window that had been boarded shut to aid in the smoke conditions. He was able to pry the window open with his hands, and he jumped from the second floor just as the 1st Assistant Chief arrived with the hand line.


The two staged engines proceeded to the scene under normal driving conditions as planned for the training operations.

Once on the scene, they were immediately informed that this was no longer a drill, that two firefighters were down on the second floor, and that one firefighter had jumped from the second-story window. Due to the circumstances, both engines deployed a RIT team. The first RIT made forcible entry through the front door of the east unit and proceeded up the stairs to the front bedroom. They immediately found Firefighter #1 and dragged him down the stairs by his turnout gear to the lawn in front of the duplex. The second RIT proceeded to the front bedroom and found the victim. They dragged the victim to the front of the duplex for immediate assistance. Note: Both the victim and Firefighter #1 were found wearing their face pieces. Burn injuries to the faces of both firefighters indicated that their masks had been removed during the fire’s progression. The victim was unresponsive when removed from the structure. Advanced life-saving procedures were initiated on the victim en route to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Firefighter #1 and Firefighter #2 suffered severe burns and were airlifted to an area burn unit.


Cause of Death. The cause of death was listed as asphyxia due to smoke inhalation.


Recommendations and Discussion. The following recommendations and discussions of them are:

1)     Fire departments should ensure that no one plays the role of victim inside the structure during live-burn training. The National Fire Protection Association Standard 1403, 2-4.13, notes that individuals shall not play the role of a victim inside the building. Rescue operations should be conducted by using mannequins instead of firefighters, just as the mock baby was used to simulate the infant.

2)     Fire departments should ensure that a certified instructor is in charge of the live-burn training and that a separate safety officer is appointed and has the authority to intervene and control any aspect of the operation. Fire departments should comply with the National Fire Protection Association Standard 1403, which notes that all instructors shall be deemed qualified to deliver fire-fighter training by the authority having jurisdiction. The instructor-in-charge should be a certified instructor who oversees all aspects of the training session.

Their responsibilities include planning and coordinating all training activities, monitoring activities, structure inspections, briefing and assigning instructors and support personnel, and ensuring adherence to the directives. The authority having jurisdiction in this area does not have any requirements or procedures in place for determining if an instructor is qualified to provide firefighter training as outlined in NFPA 1041, Standard for Fire Service Instructor Professional Qualifications. NFPA Standard 1403 further states that safety officers shall be appointed for all training sessions and have no other duties to interfere with their safety responsibilities for all persons on the scene. The safety officer should eliminate unsafe conditions, prevent unsafe acts, coordinate lighting of fires with instructor-in-charge, ensure personal protective equipment compliance, ensure all participants are accounted for before and after each evolution. The safety officers during this incident also had the responsibility of the ignition officer in the presence of and under the direct supervision of the safety officer.

3)     Fire departments should ensure that only one training fire is ignited at a time by a designated ignition officer and that a charged hose line is present while igniting the fire. One person, who is not participating in the training, should be assigned the duty of ignition officer and light the fire as instructed by the instructor-in-charge. The safety officer should be in the presence of, and have direct supervision over, the ignition officer when the fire is lit. A charged hose line should be present when igniting the fire.

4)     Fire departments should ensure that Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are developed and followed. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be developed addressing emergency-scene operations such as Training Fires, RIT Operations, SCBA, Water Supply, and Hose line Operations. These SOPs will then form the foundation as to how the training will be conducted. The SOP should be in written form and included in the overall risk-management plan for the fire department. If these procedures are changed, appropriate training should be provided to all affected members.


5)     Fire departments should ensure that all firefighters participating in live-burn training have achieved a minimum level of basic training. To ensure safety during live-burn training, all firefighters should have a minimum level of basic training. As stated in NFPA 1403, 2-1.2, the firefighter student shall have received training to meet the performance objectives for Firefighter 1 of the following sections of NFPA 1001, Standard for Firefighter Professional Qualifications:

Section 3-3 Safety

Section 3-5 Fire Behavior

Section 3-6 Portable Extinguishers

Section 3-7 Personal Protective Equipment

Section 3-11 Ladders

Section 3-12 Fire Hose, Appliances and Streams

Section 3-16 Overhaul

Section 3-19 Water Supply

6)     Fire departments should ensure that before conducting live-burn training, a pre-burn briefing session is conducted and an evacuation plan and signal are established for all participants. All participants should attend a pre-burn briefing before conducting the live-burn training session to discuss all facets of the training. The instructor in charge of the training should present the briefing session using the pre-burn plan to detail all aspects of the operation. The characteristics of the training area and structure should be addressed to include such items as crew assignments and the designation and layout of ingress/egress routes in the event of emergency. An evacuation plan should be established and an audible evacuation signal be demonstrated to all participants in an interior live-burn training evolution. It is imperative that all participants are familiar with the layout of the structure. All participants should conduct a walk-through of the structure before any training evolutions are initiated.

7)     Fire departments should ensure that fires used for live-burn training are not located in any designated exit paths. During a training exercise, every effort must be made to ensure the exit paths are free from obstructions. To provide a protected area of travel, fires should not be located in any exit paths. These areas should be closely monitored to ensure that fire does not spread during the training exercise. The sofa bed was located at the bottom of the stairs leading to the front exit. The front exit was blocked to simulate that the stairs had collapsed for the responding RIT. Once the sofa bed was lit, the fire immediately traveled into the exit path using the stairway as a chimney. To enhance the smoke conditions for the evolution, the windows on both floors were boarded over or partially covered to minimize ventilation. When the fire entered the exit path, the training exercise became a working structure fire.

8)     Fire departments should ensure that the fuels used in the live-burn training have known burning characteristics and the structure is inspected for possible environmental hazards. Fuels for training fires should have known burning characteristics, and the quantities used should be the minimum necessary that are controllable and able to create the desired fire conditions. The structure should be inspected to identify and remove materials that could contribute to rapidly spreading fires and create an environmental or health hazard. The structure must also be inspected to provide for physical safety of the participants in the training. NFPA 1403, 2-2.10, identifies the following items that should be addressed:

  • Floors, railings, and stairs shall be made safe.
  • Special attention shall be given to potential chimney hazards.
  • All walls and ceilings shall be intact or patched.
  • Debris creating or contributing to unsafe conditions shall be removed.
  • Low-density combustible fiberboard and unconventional interior finishes shall be removed.
  • Extraordinary weight above the training area shall be removed, or the area below it shall be rendered inaccessible.
  • An adequate ventilation opening(s) shall be made in the roof.
  • Utilities shall be disconnected.
  • Consideration shall be given to potential hazards of toxic weeds, insect hives, and vermin.
  • All forms of asbestos shall be removed by an approved asbestos removal contractor.




9)     States should develop a permitting procedure for live-burn training to be conducted at acquired structures. States should ensure that all requirements of NFPA 1403 have been met before issuing the permit.


Discussion: NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, is the guideline for conducting live-burn training evolutions at approved training centers, and in this case, acquired structures. Approved training centers have burn buildings that are specifically designed for repeated live-burn training evolutions. The structures that are acquired for live-burn training are usually in disrepair and were never designed for live-burn training. Any building that is acquired for live-burn training must go through an inspection process to identify and eliminate any hazards, or potential hazards that may be present to the participants, the public, and the environment. An application for permit procedure that is overseen by the state through local officials or a State representative would help ensure safety. If training facilities with approved burn buildings are available, then live-burn training exercises should not be conducted in acquired structures.


Investigator Information. This incident was investigated by Jay Tarley and Tom Mezzanotte, Safety and Occupational Health Specialists, and Robert Koedam, Section Chief, Trauma Investigations Section, Surveillance and Field Investigations Branch, Division of Safety Research, NIOSH.


Discussion/Questions About the NIOSH Report


  • No departmental SOPS were “available” at the time of the investigation, but yet, the report recommended “developing and implementing” SOPs. Is that to mean that Westmoreland Fire District didn’t have any SOPS or that they had them, but they weren’t “available”?
  • Bradley Golden had no documented training of any kind, but participated in a structural fire training exercise and donned an SCBA.
  • Benjamin Morris had Basic Essentials, Maze Training, Live-Tower Training, but no documentation to support the claim.
  • Adam Croman had Essentials, Pump Operator, Command-Initial Response, Apparatus Operator and HAZMAT-First Responder. On September 25, 2001, he served as “RIT consultant”, second floor safety officer and ignition officer.
  • Report says that all were discussing the rescue drill. See trial testimony.
  • Report stated that Westmoreland Fire Chief James Kimball took over outside command at the request of Baird. See trial testimony.
  • Report states that, while Adam Croman went to the second floor burn barrel, Baird struck a flare on the mattress of sleeper sofa. See trial testimony.
  • Report states that the three (Croman, Morris and Golden) were together at the top of the stairs. How did they become separated? Why wouldn’t two inexperienced firefighters follow their safety officer, Adam Croman to the burn barrel room? As it were, both Morris and Golden were found in the bedroom where they had been placed originally. Croman had a radio, but there are no records of radio communication.
  • Report states that engines from Westmoreland and Lowell were staged ¾ of a mile away and proceeded as per the training exercise. How could they get to the scene without knowing that the training exercise was now a working, structural fire with people trapped? Where was the radio communication? As soon as Gary Spaven exited the burning structure and informed Chief Kimball that there were still three firefighters inside, why didn’t Kimball radio a “mayday” to the responding units to hasten their response? Did Kimball radio for ambulances once it was apparent that there were injuries?
  • Report states that both victims had burns on their faces consistent with having their masks off during fire’s progression, but both were found with their masks in place.
  • Report states that a doll was used to simulate a baby, but used live victims for the “trapped firefighters”.
  • There was little discussion in the report about the condition of the SCBAs, other than they were found to be in working condition, but yet, Brad Golden’s SCBA was found to contain 1700 pounds of air still in it, but Ben Morris’s was empty. What position was Golden’s tank valve in?
  • Why were there no timelines? It would seem that minutes would be critical and yet, there was no re-creation of events to a timeline.


Though it would not be contained in the NIOSH Report, a big question in my mind is: who recovered Brad Golden from the upstairs bedroom? Waylan Wilczek stated at trial that he rescued Ben Morris, but no one mentions the recovery of Brad Golden.


Lack of experience on the participants’ parts was discussed, but I don’t think a discussion would be complete without discussing along with inexperience, the relative young age of the key individuals.


Bradley Golden was a 2001 graduate of Clinton High School and had been a member of the Lairdsville Fire Department for just three weeks prior to the fatal incident. I found no record of participation in an explorer/cadet program in Brad’s past; just a desire to join a fire department.

At the time of the fatal incident, Brad Golden was 19 years old. When you factor that in with: (1) member of the fire department for three weeks; (2) no formal training of any kind; (3) no medical documentation for fitness to wear full turnout with an SCBA; (4) no previous experience in fire conditions; (5) no previous experience in use, maintenance or trouble-shooting an SCBA; and (6) no instructions on what to do in the case of an emergency, the outcome was entirely predictable and preventable.


Benjamin Morris was also 19 years old and had been a member of the Lairdsville Fire Department for about one year. At the time of the investigation, the fire department alluded to some training that Ben had taken, but no documentation existed, according to NIOSH investigators.


Gary Spaven was Second Assistant Chief of the Lairdsville Fire Department. He was 19 years old at the time of the incident. I was unable to find any information on his training, but I have many concerns about a “19 year-old” holding the rank of assistant chief on ANY fire department. At that age, his social skills aren’t developed. I can’t believe that his reasoning abilities would be all that sharp. At 19, there would be little, if any, “been there/done that” conversation. His job experience appears to be lacking…considerably. Coupled with a very thin resume’ and I wonder aloud if he should have held this rank.


Adam Croman was the “old man” of the three firefighters upstairs at the time of the incident. He was 21 years old! That would give him 3 years experience if he joined at 18 and would give him more experience than Brad Golden, Ben Morris and Gary Spaven combined!


At the time of the investigation, his training records were available for review.


Unfortunately, according to those records, he was not qualified to be serving in the capacities assigned to him on September 25, 2001. He had no documented training in rapid intervention, safety or as ignition officer for live-burn training.

Especially disturbing is the lack of common sense that goes beyond the lack of training and experience. As the person responsible for the safety of the other two, he failed miserably. Throw in the fact that he was also “senior” to Brad and Ben and you can understand why I am so opposed to young, inexperienced firefighters holding ranks or positions that could greatly impact another’s safety.


I am convinced that a more highly trained, more experienced and more mature firefighter would have gotten everyone out alive.


Hell, the guy I just described wouldn’t have gotten them IN that situation to begin with!


If Adam Croman threw down the mattress as he says he did, then why? His fire was already lit. The second fire was not safe and especially near a stairway. A QUALIFIED safety officer would have known that.


If Adam Croman heard the flare struck downstairs, as he claims he did, then why didn’t he grab Brad and Ben and take them out of the house right then and there?


If Adam Croman was 21 years old, RIT consultant, safety and ignition officer, then why didn’t he get Brad and Ben out of that house?


Because he was just as scared as Brad and Ben were. He admits that they all panicked, but I would bet big money that HE was the source of their panic.


The guy that is supposed to be in charge of you is screaming and is out of his mind!


Mr. Big Shot was overwhelmed with a series of events that he wasn’t prepared and qualified to deal with. He abandoned, left, deserted and totally disregarded his two fellow brothers to save his own sorry a**.


He can still hear the screams?




Because Brad can’t hear them anymore.


And Ben Morris is quite the gentleman, considering that he was left to die along with Brad.


Adam Croman told his father and a courtroom about his heroic efforts to shepherd Brad and Ben to the stairway. Ben’s courtroom testimony disagrees with Adam’s version and we will never know Brad’s version.


But I’m not buying Croman’s version. The rest of you can decide for yourselves.


Alan Baird III was 30 years old at the time and First Assistant Chief of the Lairdsville Fire Department. He was a 12-year “veteran”, but his training records revealed basic training courses and certainly did not give rise to the notion that he had a strong academic background in firefighter training evolutions. It appears that he also joined at age 18.


Does anyone else see a pattern?


I get the idea that Lairdsville wants the young, restless type; one who is willing to take chances instead of training; one who believes that getting hurt is a badge of honor; one who is “living the dream”, but is unwilling to put in the time. I remember Christine Golden describing a picnic that she went to and was struck by how young the firefighters were and also lamented about their safety.


Lairdsville had been lucky for some time. Their inexperience, lack of training, ignorance and arrogance finally caught up with them on September 25, 2001. Tragically, it was Brad Golden who paid the ultimate price.


Key Players in the Lairdsville Incident


Bradley Golden, Lairdsville Firefighter

Benjamin Morris, Lairdsville Firefighter

Adam Croman, Lairdsville Firefighter

Alan Baird III, Lairdsville First Assistant Chief

Gary Spaven, Lairdsville Second Assistant Chief

Lance Croman, Lairdsville Fire Chief

Shane Smith, Lairdsville Firefighter

James Kimball, Westmoreland Fire Chief

Waylan Wilczek, Westmoreland Firefighter

Robert Walsh, Westmoreland Fire District Safety and Health Officer

Kathryn Wenham, Lowell Firefighter/EMT, sister to James Kimball

George Dorn, Lowell Fire Chief

Dave Ruppert, state Department of Labor Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) Bureau

Michael A. Arcuri, District Attorney

Michael Coluzza, First Assistant District Attorney

Robert Moran, Defense Attorney for Alan Baird III

Michael L. Dwyer, Presiding Judge at trial

Carol Roberts, Mother of Bradley Golden

Bob Roberts, Step-father of Bradley Golden

Michael L. Golden, Sr., Father of Bradley Golden

Michael Golden, Jr., Brother of Bradley Golden

Greg Golden, Cousin of Bradley Golden

Christine Golden, Sister-in-law to Bradley Golden and wife of Michael Golden, Jr.

Dana Spaven, Sister of Gary Spaven

Oneida County Sheriff’s Department

New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control


Friends Remember Bradley


Schoolmates and classmates were present at Clinton High School when a flag was raised in Brad’s memory at the football field. His wake was filled with students and teachers alike.


Kristina Bramley remembers when her and Brad were toddlers and Brad’s mother would baby-sit her. She talked about the memorial service and how basically, the whole school turned out. I couldn’t think of anything else for at least a month, she said.


Jewell, Kristina Bramley and Jamey Jenny talked about their friend. They recall how he enjoyed just hanging out and driving his Saturn car, which he named the Red Rocket. They described how he always had to have his hair perfect. He had it gelled so that it was always hard, Jewell recalls with a laugh. One night a friend messed it up and he got mad. But then he laughed and said ‘you’re the only one who can mess with the hair.

Brad’s appearance was important to him. In his younger days, he would wear a hat and wore thick glasses until he got contact lenses. When he got older, he discovered that Gio cologne would become his favorite cologne.


More than most guys, he really cared what he looked like, according to Kristina Bramley.


He especially liked cruising around town in his Saturn, according to Jamey Jenny, who considered himself more of a brother to Brad than a close friend.


We’d go to the Carousel Mall, anywhere. He didn’t like sitting at home, being bored. He wanted to be active, said his best friend.


Bradley went to Georgia after his graduation to be with his sister, but missed his friends and returned to Clinton. It was then that he decided to join the fire department.


On September 25th, Brad was invited to join his friends for a night out, but Brad had a fire department training exercise that he didn’t want to miss.


It would be the last time that Jamey would get to talk to him.


September 25, 2001-In Their Own Words


-Purpose of the training-


  • State Labor Department report stated that the plan that night was for a fire to be set under controlled conditions and as part of the exercise, two individuals were to be pulled from an upstairs bedroom, giving firefighters rescue experience and smoky conditions.
  • Alan Baird III stated, Lairdsville would show up like we had a house fire and do a search like we had a mock victim in the house. Then Lairdsville would have firefighters trapped inside, and Westmoreland and Lowell would come in to extinguish the fire on the first floor and do a search for one or two firefighters inside who were simulating being trapped inside by a collapsed roof.
  • Waylan Wilczek testified at trial that the exercise was to be a rescue of live victims.
  • Kathryn Wenham stated that they were told that the purpose of the exercise was to rescue two victims.
  • Lance Croman stated that plans called for a rapid intervention team exercise.
  • James Kimball said that it was suppose to be a smoke drill.
  • Benjamin Morris said that it was supposed to be a routine interior fire attack exercise.


-Who was in charge of the training-


  • Alan Baird III identified Westmoreland Fire Chief James Kimball as incident commander that night. He’s overall in charge of the whole scene.
  • A state report concluded both Baird and Gary Spaven were in charge of the exercise.
  • Robert Moran, Baird’s Defense Attorney, stated that James Kimball was in charge.
  • James Kimball stated at trial that Al Baird was calling the shots when I got to the scene and he told me everything was set up.
  • James Kimball gave a statement to an Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputy after the incident that Lance Croman was the officer in charge at the scene.
  • Lance Croman testified at trial that Baird was in charge at the scene.
  • Benjamin Morris stated at trial that As far as I knew, it was Lairdsville’s practice. The highest-ranking officer was in charge, referring to Baird.
  • George Dorn, Lowell Fire Chief testified at trial that in a training exercise, the highest-ranking official of the department conducting the drill would be in charge.


-How many fires were set and where-


  • Alan Baird III stated that there was only supposed to be a fire set in a queen size sofa bed couch on the first floor.
  • Gary Spaven stated that two fires were planned for that night.
  • Robert Moran stated at trial that he believed that Adam Croman set two fires upstairs and then threw a mattress down to Baird on the first floor for a third fire.
  • Kathryn Wenham stated we were told that there would be a burn barrel with live fire in it.
  • Lance Croman testified at trial that I assumed it would only be the burn barrel. It was only suppose to be smoke.
  • Adam Croman stated at trial that he was told a burn barrel was to be used in the smoke only exercise.
  • James Kimball stated at trial All I knew is it was supposed to be a smoke drill at that time and supposedly a burn barrel.
  • Lairdsville firefighter Shane Smith testified at trial that he heard Baird tell another firefighter that he planned to ignite a fire in the sofa to make the heat more intense.
  • Benjamin Morris testified at trial that Lance told us it was going to be a smoke exercise in a smoke barrel.


-Who set the fires-


  • Benjamin Morris stated that Adam lit the barrel.
  • Gary Spaven stated that Croman lit the first fire in the barrel upstairs.
  • Gary Spaven stated that after Croman lit the barrel, about 30 seconds later, Baird lit the couch.
  • State report states that Spaven lit the fatal fire based on statements given to them by Robert Walsh. Walsh denies it.
  • Robert Moran stated at trial that Croman, I believe, set both fires.
  • Alan Baird III said that he ignited the couch and mattress pad with a road flare.
  • Dana Spaven said that Baird used a flare to light the living room sofa.


-What happened upstairs as the fire grew-


Gary Spaven

As the house filled with smoke, Spaven found himself trapped upstairs. He called for a ladder. He went to the side of the building and told Kimball there were still three others inside.


Adam Croman

Croman stated at trial he took Morris and Golden to a second-floor window, but flames and thick black smoke from the first floor fire were licking up at us. We got to the hall area and sort of just nudged each other to try to get downstairs. As the three firefighters tried to crawl backward down a burning staircase to escape the inferno surrounding them, Croman realized he couldn’t make it down that way alive. Moments later, Croman testified he lost contact with Morris and Golden. Croman states You go from human to survival mode. You can’t explain it. We were all just panicking. We didn’t know what to do. It got intense. I just bolted out. We were yelling at each other. To this day, I can still hear screaming. It was mind-boggling. Croman found the burn barrel room and crawled until he felt cardboard over a window. I made a decision. I had to get out. My hands were tingling. I put my hands out, my arms and I just dropped.


Benjamin Morris

Ben Morris stated at trial that after donning full protective gear and being positioned on the floor next to Golden by Adam Croman in the upstairs bedroom, he and Golden waited. Croman returned in about five minutes. Morris stated He came back to the room, stood in the doorway and said ‘come on guys, we got to go, let’s go’. You could see the place filling with smoke, said Morris. As the firefighters tried to escape, they quickly lost contact with each other. I never made it to my feet. The room filled with smoke. I was confused. I didn’t know what was going on. Morris said he panicked and became disoriented. Extreme heat prevented him from making it to the blazing stairway. He felt along the walls for one of the boarded up windows in the bedroom. Then he heard the bell on his air tank start to ring. The tank was running out of breathing air.

Morris lost consciousness. He next remembers waking up in grass in the front yard after being taken out of the house.


James Ryan, state fire investigator

Firefighters trapped upstairs in the old farmhouse would have had a difficult time escaping down the staircase. The risk would be extreme. The temperatures in this area would be greater than the (capacity) of the protective equipment. The heat would be unbearable. As the fire rapidly burned out of control, a flashover, stoked by heated gases occurred in the stairwell area, creating temperatures of about 1500 degrees in some ceiling areas and between 250 and 300 degrees on the floor.


-Rescue and Recovery-


Once the participating units from Westmoreland and Lowell arrived at the scene, they realized that the drill was no longer a drill, but a working, structure fire. Waylan Wilczek was first into the house with a hose and quickly made his way up the back stairway to rooms on the second floor, where visibility was zero. An air pack alarm alerted Wilczek that a firefighter was nearby. His flashlight beam found a reflective strip on turnout gear. Wilczek was able to remove an unconscious and badly burned Ben Morris from the house. Golden went undiscovered. According to Wilczek, Nobody said how many victims were down.

As Croman and Morris were being treated for injuries, Brad Golden was brought outside. Kathryn Wenham, a Lowell Fire Department firefighter/EMT stated that Bradley’s face was gray and black with soot and that he had no pulse. CPR and efforts to intubate him had little effect.

Golden was rushed to St. Elizabeth Medical Center. He was pronounced dead at approximately 8:00 p.m.

Carol Roberts, mother of Bradley, didn’t find out until several hours later that there had been an accident and that her son had been injured. It was at St. Elizabeth Medical Center where she was told that Bradley had died. She remembers that he had burns all over his face.

As word spread that Bradley had been taken to the hospital, friends planned to go there to joke with him. Once there, they were taken to a waiting room where others, including Brad’s family, were waiting. A doctor came out and told them, Brad didn’t make it.


Dr. Michael Sikirica describes the mechanism of death: Golden died of asphyxia after inhaling heated gases that damaged his windpipe. The mechanism would be respiratory failure and the inability to breathe. It would be painful. Burns on Golden’s face showed he pulled the protective mask off his face as he was overcome by heat and smoke upstairs.


-In the aftermath-


As a result of the tragic events of September 25, 2001, Lairdsville First Assistant Chief Alan Baird III was indicted in February 2002 for second-degree manslaughter in the death of Bradley Golden and second-degree assault for the injuries to Benjamin Morris and Adam Croman. Maximum sentence for the manslaughter charge is five to fifteen years in state prison. A plea offer by the district attorney’s office in March 2002 was made to Baird for a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide, six months in jail, speaking to fire departments about “mistakes made” and five years probation. It was rejected by Baird.

At trial on May 13, 2002, the district attorney was granted an amended charge to include the option of criminally negligent homicide, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison, but would also allow for probation.

On May 22, 2002, Alan Baird III was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide.

On July 8, 2002, Baird was sentenced to 75 days in jail and five years probation with the stipulation that Baird have no involvement with any fire departments. Baird was granted a 120-day stay of his sentence with a written appeal, due by November 18, 2002.

On November 18, 2002, a request for more time was filed for Baird.

An appeal was granted and will be heard by the New York Appellate Court on September 17, 2003. Baird remains free on bail.

On December 23, 2002, a lawsuit was filed by Carol D. Roberts and Michael L. Golden, parents of deceased Lairdsville firefighter Bradley Golden. Also filing suit were Benjamin Morris and Adam Croman, who were seriously injured during the September 25, 2001 incident.


Defendants in the lawsuit are: Oneida County, Westmoreland Fire District, which includes Westmoreland, Lowell and Lairdsville fire departments, Alan Baird III, the chiefs of all three fire departments at the time of the incident, the fire commissioners at the time of the incident and the property owner where the incident occurred.

After the trial had concluded, the families of Bradley Golden vowed to fight for legislation to prevent this type of incident from ever happening again. Due to their efforts, “Bradley’s Law” was signed into law on July 17, 2003 by New York Governor George Pataki. The bill bars the use of “live” victims in fire training exercises. Violations are a felony crime.


A Message from Christine Golden


Hello, everyone! Well, today was an exciting day in Utica, NY. Governor Pataki signed ‘Bradley’s Law’ into law at approximately 3:30 pm this afternoon (July 17, 2003). There were over 10 family members there, including Brad’s niece, 3-month old Olivia. It was a very proud moment for our family.

The new law that makes it a felony to use live people to play victims in training fires goes into effect immediately.

The Golden family could never had achieved this without your help.

In the family speech said during the ceremony, we thanked the ‘firefighters from around the nation’ for their support of the new law.

Our family sends its sincerest gratitude to all of you, for the support, prayers and kind words these past two years.

This law finally allows us some closure, so we know that Brad’s death was not in vain. We also know that if Little Olivia says she wants to be a firewoman when she grows up, we know she will be safe in her training and we will be proud that she picked such a fine profession.

Take care you guys and gals!

And Bless you! Stay safe!


Christine Golden


Key Provisions of  Bradley’s Law:


  • Makes it illegal for people to pose as victims during live-burn firefighting training exercises.
  • Violators face a civil penalty of up to $1,000.


Quotes and Notes


I have included quotes and notes taken from interviews, court room testimony, firefighter websites and news stories to give readers an opportunity to better understand the emotions and underpinning issues for those who were close to the tragedy and those who were directly involved in the tragic incident. Though I have read the information on the Lairdsville incident many times, I am still struck by what was said by some of the key figures in this case. It tugs at my emotions and in some cases, angers me.


The interior structural firefighters who were in the live control burn were not trained in the basic essentials as required, had not received medical physicals, were never given training for respirators and never fit-tested for SCBA. Taken from the state Department of Labor’s PESH Bureau Report


As a concept, the entire exercise was greatly flawed and put human life at risk. First Assistant District Attorney Michael Coluzza


I thought about it, but the windows were awful small. Alan Baird III, when asked about the use of ladders for emergency escapes.


I did not anticipate that wall to catch fire that soon. Alan Baird III to investigators.


He told me he pushed them toward the stairs and he jumped out the window with a full pack on. For some reason we don’t know, the other two didn’t make it out. Lairdsville Fire Chief Lance Croman of the conversation that he had with his son, Adam Croman moments after the incident.


I never made it to my feet. Benjamin Morris of when Adam Croman came back to the room to tell him and Brad that they had to get out of the house.


Pretty much for the realism. Our town doesn’t have training dummies to use. Alan Baird III when asked why live victims were used for the training exercise.


To my knowledge, I’m not aware of any training that is required to be a training officer. Alan Baird III when asked if Adam Croman or Gary Spaven had any training as safety officers.


Had they implemented the appropriate guidelines and followed the appropriate guidelines for live fire training exercises, this could have been prevented. You shouldn’t have to risk your life to train. David Ruppert, state Department of Labor PESH Bureau investigator.


It’s very feasible for a small volunteer department to promote someone who is not experienced. Douglas Whittaker, state certified fire instructor.


I don’t want to answer that because I’m unsure. Alan Baird III when asked about the foam burning with intense heat, due to it being a petroleum-based product.


I would have to believe these people aren’t that well prepared and are not ready to undertake that kind of an exercise. It’s pure folly and it’s lucky the other guy didn’t die. Dan Sehl, Lairdsville resident when asked about the fatal incident.


The fire department is a volunteer community service. It’s like the Lions Club or other volunteer organizations. We try and do the best we can. Don Jennings, Lairdsville firefighter since 1977.


I don’t think one person should be singled out and take the rap for this. Jeff Jenkins, Lairdsville firefighter and Baird supporter.


He’s a volunteer and you can’t really hold him to a professional standard. Robert Moran, Baird’s defense attorney.


I think the strength of the defense are the facts of this case. Robert Moran, Baird’s defense attorney.


The sooner this whole thing gets done, the better off the whole fire district will be for it. Robert Walsh, Westmoreland Fire District Safety and Health Officer.


He said he was responsible for the catastrophe on Route 5. Waylan Wilczek, Westmoreland firefighter of Baird at the de-briefing.


He was happy…excited. It was the first time he ever saw any fire gear. Carol Roberts, Bradley’s mother on Bradley getting his gear.


Baird’s a volunteer. People don’t volunteer anymore. He’s given and given and given. Robert Moran, Baird’s defense attorney on Baird being charged in the death of Bradley Golden.


My job is to make sure that both sides get a fair trial and I’m going to do my level best to make that happen. Stay quiet, watch what’s going on and we won’t have any problems. Judge Michael L. Dwyer to the courtroom on opening day of the trial.


I’m going to move on. Alan Baird III outside of the courtroom moments after being found guilty of criminally negligent homicide.


I wish it had been a different charge, but at least he got something for taking my baby away from me. Carol Roberts, Bradley Golden’s mother when asked for her reaction to the verdict.


Ben (Morris) and Brad (Golden) were standing there. They had their gear on already, so I sent them down. I told them it couldn’t get much easier. All they had to do was go upstairs with all their gear, lay down on the floor and have some guys drag them out of the house. Lairdsville Chief Lance Croman on a request for two live victims.


I stood up, banged on the walls a couple times, then fell backwards. That’s it. I next remember waking up in grass in the front yard. Benjamin Morris, Lairdsville firefighter who was with Bradley Golden in the final minutes.


Brad didn’t make it. Jamey Jenny, Brad’s friend quoting the treating physician at the hospital.


-Reactions from the nation’s fire service community-


Reactions to the events of Lairdsville ranged from confused to outrage and every emotion in between. It remains as a hot topic on many websites devoted to firefighting. As tragic as it was, I believe that it will be included in future textbooks on firefighting as an example of what not to do for a training exercise. The state Department of Labor in New York felt so strongly about the mistakes that were made that it cited the Westmoreland Fire District with ELEVEN violations.

And had NFPA 1403 been recognized as law in New York, there would have been even more citations and fines.

The most perplexing question posed most often was “why wasn’t anyone else charged in the death of Bradley Golden?” There were grants of immunity given to some, but with the overwhelming weight of the evidence at trial, why was it necessary to “strike deals” with some of the key figures in the case? Though they escaped criminal prosecution, they were the targets of the civil suit in the end. Justice? Some think so. Still others are left feeling that the system failed.






Bill Farrell and Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Lairdsville: What Went Wrong, 4/14/02.


Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Firefighter’s Trial Starts Today, 5/13/02.


Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Night of the Fatal Fire Detailed, 5/15/02.


Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Witnesses Say They Didn’t Expect Fire, 5/16/02.


Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Baird Trial; No Accelerants Used in Fire, 5/17/02.


Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Firefighters Expected ‘Smoke Exercise’, 5/18/02.


Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Baird Takes Some Responsibility for Fire, 5/21/02.


Ken Little, Utica Observer Dispatch; Jury Finds Baird Guilty, 5/23/02.


Bill Farrell, Utica Observer Dispatch; Firefighters Watched Case Closely, 5/23/02.


Bill Farrell, Utica Observer Dispatch; Emotions Run Strong, 5/23/02.


NIOSH, Death in the Line of Duty; A Summary of a NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation; Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Investigative Report #F2001-38; Volunteer Firefighter Dies and Two Others Are Injured During Live Burn Training-New York, 10/31/02.


Kelly Hassett, Utica Observer Dispatch; Baird’s Appeal Deadline Today, 11/18/02.


Kelly Hassett, Utica Observer Dispatch; Baird Requests Extension of Stay, 11/19/02.


Rome Sentinel; Lawsuit Filed in Lairdsville Fireman’s Death, 3/25/03


Jay Gallagher and Matthew Rodriguez,; New York Bill Bars ‘Live’ Training Victims, 6/20/03. (Courtesy of


Jess Mandel MD, Joseph Schellenberg MD and Charles A. Hales MD,; Smoke Inhalation, 8/5/03


McGraw-Hill, Health Professions Division, Trauma, Fourth Edition; Inhalation Injury.

WebMD Health, Miller-Keane Medical Dictionary; Asphyxia, 2000.


Merck Manual of Medical Information, Home Edition, 1997.



The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine or PennWell Corporation. This article is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form.

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Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on October 3, 2016 at 9:03am

The question that I most often ask myself is: "where are the key people of this incident NOW?". Everyone is 15 years older, the wounds are not as fresh, though the loss is every bit as deep; those who were hesitant to speak then may be more comfortable talking about it now. Many of us became very emotionally attached to Brad and were only given a snapshot of his life. I want to see his "photo album" to learn more. I want to know how Ben Morris is doing. I want to know if progress has been made with the fire departments involved. I believe that there this story doesn't have an ending yet.

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