Suit Claims FDNY Blamed Boiler for Movie Set LODD Fire To Protect Hollywood

An FDNY fire marshal who was removed from an investigation into the cause of a fire on the set of a Bruce Willis movie that killed a firefighter, has filed suit against the city and two of his bosses. Fire Marshal Scott P. Specht filed suit last month in Kings County Supreme Court naming the city, Chief Fire Marshal Thomas Kane, and Assistant Chief Fire Marshal John David Lynn as defendants.

According to the complaint, Specht was the lead fire investigator into the March 22, 2018 fire in a Harlem building being used as the set for the movie “Motherless Brooklyn.” The movie starring Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin is set to premier next month.

The five-alarm fire claimed the life of firefighter Michael Davidson, 37. The lawsuit claims the defendants sought to blame the fire on a faulty boiler, where as Specht was focusing in on the production company’s overloading of the building’s electrical system.

According to the complaint:

  • On April 13, 2018, Defendants Kane and Lynn called Specht to a meeting at FDNY headquarters at 9 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn, New York, and ordered him to file a final report for his investigation concluding that a flue connected to the boiler caused the fire and that the fire originated in the boiler flue.
  • Specht refused to file that report as ordered because it was false.
  • Specht told Kane and Lynn that he had not completed his investigation and that the cause and origin of the fire remained at the time undetermined.
  • Specht also told Kane and Lynn at the April 13th meeting that there was insufficient evidence to place the origin or the cause of the fire on the boiler or the boiler flue; that he did not believe that the boiler or the boiler flue was the fire’s cause; and that his primary theory was that the movie production personnel caused the fire and that their practices may have contributed to the dangerous and toxic conditions that killed Firefighter Davidson.
  • The April 13th meeting lasted several hours and during the course of the meeting, Kane, Lynn and others browbeat, insulted, abused, and threatened Specht in order to coerce Specht into filing his official report stating the boiler flue as the cause of the fire.
  • At the end of the meeting, Specht told his superiors, as directed, that he would draft a final report blaming the boiler flue for the fire.
  • About two days after the April 13th meeting, however, Specht told his direct supervisor, Supervising Fire Marshal (“SFM”) Kanelopoulos, that he could not and would not file a false report as directed by Kane and Lynn.
  • SFM Kanelopoulos told Specht that Specht was committing “career suicide” if he did not comply with Kane and Lynn’s order.
  • About two weeks later, on April 30, 2018, Specht was called back to headquarters and was again attacked by Kane, Lynn and all other FDNY officers at the meeting for failing to file the as-ordered official report as directed.
  • At the end of the April 30th meeting, Kane and Lynn removed Specht from the investigation and relieved him of his duties as a Fire Marshal on the fire.
  • At the end of the April 30th meeting, Specht reported to his superiors that he was sick and was going to report to FDNY medical personnel for an evaluation of his medical condition.
  • Upon information and belief, SFM Kanelopoulos was told by Kane and Lynn to file the official report that identified the boiler flue as the cause and origin of the March 22nd fire.
  • Upon information and belief, sometime shortly after April 30th, SFM Kanelopoulos filed an official report that falsely identified the boiler flue as the cause and origin of the March 22nd fire.
  • Upon information and belief, Kane and Lynn promoted SFM Kanelopoulos to the position of Supervising Fire Marshal, Level II, as a reward to SFM Kanelopoulos for filing the false report on the fire.

The complaint goes on the outline additional allegations of retaliation, and claims the defendants were politically motivated to protect the growing film industry in the city at the expense of the landlord. Specht, who is an Army combat vet and Black Hawk helicopter pilot, has since filed for a disability pension.

The Daily News quoted Specht’s attorney Pete Gleason, as saying:

“Specht, a combat veteran, doesn’t think twice about flying his Black Hawk into harm’s way and will never be intimidated by a few…bureaucrats who want to besmirch the legacy of a fallen comrade while protecting a pack of Hollywood phonies.”

Here is a copy of the complaint:

Thanks to firefighter-attorney Pete Gleason for the complaint.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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