BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There will be no criminal charges filed by the Erie County District Attorney’s office as a result of the fire that killed Buffalo firefighter Jason Arno.
At 37 years old, Arno lost his life battling a fierce blaze that overtook the building at 745 Main St. in the city’s Theatre District. A three-year veteran of the Buffalo Fire Department, he left behind a wife and a 3-year-old daughter.
“Jason Arno will be remembered for exemplifying bravery when he died in the line of duty while answering the call to protect the residents of the City of Buffalo,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said. “His family and friends remain in my thoughts and prayers as they continue to grieve his tragic and untimely death.”
The building, a three-story structure owned by former Congressman Chris Jacobs, housed costume shop DC Theatricks on its ground floor. At the time of the fire, the first floor and the basement were the only ones being used.
Jacobs had purchased the building about four months prior to the fire, and DC Theatricks had a month-to-month lease there. The morning of the fire, the owner of DC Theatricks left and locked the door around 4:30 a.m. after working through the night on a big order, Flynn tells us.
A few hours later, a couple of masonry workers arrived to perform work outside an exterior doorway at the building. Utilizing blowtorches, ice was removed, but the sparks from those blowtorches also caused bags of clothes inside the building to ignite, causing the fire.
“It’s half-assed,” Flynn said of the workers’ use of blowtorches near a plywood door. The door was charred, but it didn’t catch fire. “It’s stupid, but it’s not criminal,” he said.
Not long before 10 a.m., one of the workers noticed some smoke while the other was home on a break. Buffalo firefighters arrived at the scene minutes later.
“Any potential permit violations will be referred to the City of Buffalo for further review,” Flynn said.
A “slow, methodical, painstaking operation” is how Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo previously described the process of finding the cause and origin of the fire. Several items of evidence were removed from the scene as crews looked into it.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Response Team Branch Chief Walter Shaw says more than 100 interviews took place after the fire occurred. Those interviewed include first responders, workers at the scene, the building owner and gas and electric providers, among others.
Ever since then, Arno’s cause of death has been under investigation, too. Flynn revealed Thursday morning that it was ultimately ruled as smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. Other firefighters suffered minor burns, he said.
While Arno and others were inside the building, an explosion occurred, leading to an evacuation order. But Arno was trapped.
When other firefighters realized he hadn’t come back out, they then went back in to find him. According to Flynn, Arno’s leg and foot had become caught in a metal clothing rack.
Still trapped, a second explosion occurred, and the firefighters were forced to leave again, or risk a greater chance of death. Hours later, around 1:45 p.m., Arno’s body was recovered from the building.
The two explosions occurred within 11 minutes, and it’s debatable whether or not a third took place, too. At some point during the incident, the first floor caved in and a gas line was severed in the basement. It’s not clear if that caused one of the explosions.
Flynn said during Thursday’s conference updating the situation that every arson has intent, but this fire did not.
“My office has completed our investigation into the building fire that claimed the life of Buffalo firefighter Jason Arno,” Flynn said. “Based upon the evidence, we have determined that there are no criminal charges that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Despite that, “there’s clearly a civil component here,” Flynn said, noting that Arno’s family has retained a lawyer.
Whether or not there will be civil liabilities is still in question.
Thursday afternoon, Congressman Chris Jacobs released the following statement:
I realize the District Attorney’s announcement regarding the tragic accident at 745 Main Street provides no comfort to the family and friends of Buffalo Firefighter Jason Arno. My deepest condolences and prayers continue to be with the Arno family.”Congressman Chris Jacobs