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Fireman's Widow Sues Over Training Course Death

The widow of a volunteer Atascocita firefighter who died of overheating during "smoke diving" training in Beaumont in 2012 has sued two firefighters' groups and a safety council, accusing them of gross negligence leading to his death.

Captain Neal Wade Smith, 46, a U.S. Navy veteran and father of two, died of hyperthermia after enduring "grueling drills in 120-degree temperatures while wearing sweat-soaked, 75-pound gear for two ten-hour days," according to the suit, filed Thursday in Jefferson County District Court.

The suit alleges that, during the training, "instructors threw firecrackers at him, ensnared him with bungee cords, yelled that he was a 'p***y' and forced him to 'cool off' on metal bleachers on a sunny concrete slab."

Although Smith became disoriented as his internal temperature reached 107.9 degrees, "an instructor left him on the floor [of a training tower] for five minutes and even told another student to finish the course by walking Capt. Smith's body," according to the suit.

When an ambulance was finally called and Smith was rushed to the hospital, the suit claims, doctors diagnosed him with "hyperthermia, heatstroke, severe dehydration, and complications of heatstroke." He was pronounced brain dead the following day and removed from life support. The suit claims that "an autopsy revealed that Capt. Smith died from hyperthermia caused by the smoke divers training."

The defendants include the East Texas Firemen's & Fire Marshal's Association; the State Firemen's & Fire Marshals' Association of Texas (as well as Dennis Gifford, the association's secretary and treasurer); and the Industrial Safety Training Council.

We reached out to the defendants for comment. Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen's & Fire Marshal's Association of Texas, said he could not comment because he was unaware of the suit.

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Gifford also said he had not been notified or served so could not comment in detail. He told us, "It's certainly a horrible tragedy how we lost Neal, but other than that...that's all I'm really able to share with you until I receive further information."

We're waiting to hear from an attorney for the ISTC. [Update: An attorney told us he could not comment because he has not yet seen the suit.]

The suit also alleges that "of the 22 firefighters who began the class with Capt. Smith, six quit for safety reasons, and three were evacuated for medical emergencies."

"The organizations that designed and ran this so-called class knew that it was dangerous and irresponsible, but their crazy machismo pushed the limits beyond simple human decency," Smith family attorney Adam Milasincic stated in a press release.

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