Investigation continues in deadly March fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
State and federal reports have yet to emerge in connection to the March 7 Salisbury Millwork fire.
“It takes a long time to get the reports out,” said Tim Merinar, lead investigator with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Merinar, based in Morgantown, W.Va., was part of a three-member team from NIOSH that was in Salisbury March 17-22.
“We were down there and completed our site investigation,” he said Tuesday. “We’re now developing the report and verifying information we collected. … The best way to say it is we’re actively investigating.”
A final report probably will take more than six months from the fire before its ready, Merinar said.
He acknowledged that his program has been overwhelmed lately with a number of firefighter fatalities happening across the country. Merinar was part of the team, for example, looking into last June’s Charleston, S.C., fire in which nine firefighters died.
A NIOSH report has yet to be completed on that fire, for example.
The Salisbury Millwork fire claimed the lives of Salisbury firefighters Victor Isler and Justin Monroe. Four other firefighters were injured in the fire, which caused an estimated $2 million in damage.
NIOSH’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths and tries to offer recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries.
“We don’t try to find fault or place blame on fire departments or individuals,” Merinar stressed.
In Salisbury, Merinar said, “everybody was forthcoming” with information and his team received great cooperation. The NIOSH team met with members of the Salisbury Fire Department and the mutual aid departments who assisted during the March 7 fire.
NIOSH also talked with law enforcement, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities officials, a Salisbury Millwork representative and has exchanged information with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives and the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Merinar said his agency has cooperative agreements with state OSHA programs to exchange information.
A National Response Team from ATF has officially ruled the cause of the fire as “undetermined,” although it added there was no arson or other “malicious” activity involved.
Investigators say the fire started in a void space above the basement drop ceiling of the Salisbury Millwork office.
Autopsy reports said Isler and Monroe died from heat exposure and carbon monoxide poisoning. They were part of a hose team that got caught in the production side of the building as the fire spread rapidly.
Dolores Quesenberry, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Labor, said Tuesday the Occupational Safety and Health Administration continues to investigate the Salisbury fire by looking at both the company and the Fire Department.
Investigations generally take at least eight weeks, but can last up to six months, Quesenberry said.
Meanwhile, Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell said Tuesday he has chosen three “highly professional people”‘ to serve on an independent panel that will review his department’s actions during the March 7 fire.
Parnell said the panel of fire service experts must be approved by City Manager David Treme before he can release the names.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or