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Federal report recommends changes to SAFD tactics following fire that took one of its own

(SBG San Antonio)

SAN ANTONIO -- A federal report released Thursday states that the tactics the San Antonio Fire Department took in a fire that killed 31-year-old firefighter Scott Deem at the Ingram Square shopping center last year were flawed.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health spent months researching key details into the fire at Spartan Box Gym. It says the department failed to safely search the building, keep track of rescuers and adequately ventilate the gym. A state report released in February also made several recommendations for changes within the San Antonio Fire Department following the deadly fire. In addition to Deem's death, the fire also injured two other firefighters. One of them, Brad Phipps, was severely injured.

The federal report, put together by the department alongside a division of the CDC that investigates line-of-duty deaths, shows what the department can do to better prepare for those conditions.

"We volunteered for this,” San Antonio fire chief Charles Hood said about the report. “It was something that we wanted to do."

Lessons from that terrible night are leading to major changes. There’s now money in the budget for a new training division chief in charge of firefighters’ continuing education, including mayday calls.

"We want to keep firefighters from having to call a mayday,” Chief Hood said.

He said a new training facility east of downtown that’s dedicated to Deem is already playing a big role.

Emond Johnson was arrested and charged with felony murder, arson resulting in death, two charges of arson and bodily injury, and arson-building in the investigation. According to police records, when confronted with video proof that he was at the gym near the time of the fire, Johnson admitted using his lighter to ignite a gasoline/oil mix in the back room of the gym. When we were at the scene, Johnson said he owned the Spartan Box Gym in the shopping center. Police records show that he admitted getting eviction notices for the gym in the days leading up to the fire. According to his Facebook page, Johnson posted a GoFundMe to help rebuild his gym after the fire destroyed it.

Read the full federal report here.

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