Widow of Houston Area Volunteer Firefighter Who Died in Training Exercise Sues Trainers
July 31, 2014

BEAUMONT, Texas – The widow of a Houston area volunteer firefighter has filed a wrongful death and gross negligence lawsuit in Beaumont state court against several firefighter training groups and individuals for running a training exercise that led to her husband’s death in 2012.

Penelope M. Smith filed the lawsuit on July 31 on behalf of herself and the couple’s two young children following the death of Capt. Neal Wade Smith of the Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department.

Capt. Smith died in September 2012 after collapsing during a training exercise and lying on the ground without appropriate medical attention. The U.S. Navy veteran had trained for a year to take the “smoke divers” course that ended in his death. Records show that Capt. Smith had an internal temperature of 107.9 F and showed no pulse when help finally was called. The training took place in Beaumont on scorching days where portions of the training facility reached 120 degrees, leading to medical evacuations for three other trainees.

“Capt. Smith was a veteran, and an experienced volunteer firefighter. He understood that he might lose his life in the line of duty, and he accepted that. But he never should have lost his life during a training program that was nothing more than an out-of-control, deadly hazing,” says attorney Adam Milasincic of the Houston-based law firm AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Mensing. “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.”

The Texas Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal government investigated Capt. Smith’s tragic death and concluded that these defendants chose to ignore routine safety concerns and obvious signs of heat emergencies.

“Every doctor and government agency will tell you that ice baths are some of the simple, effective ways to save someone from heat stroke. For the cost of a metal bucket and a few bags of ice, these people could have saved the life of a firefighter, husband, and father of two,” says Mr. Milasincic, who is handling the case with fellow AZA lawyer Demetrios Anaipakos. “The events that led to Capt. Smith’s death were appalling and completely avoidable. He and his family deserved better.”

The lawsuit filed in Jefferson County District Court is Penelope M. Smith, et al v. East Texas Firemen’s & Fire Marshals’ Association, et al.

AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Mensing, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized in Chambers USA 2014 among the best in Texas commercial law; U.S. News & World Report and The Best Lawyers in America as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms in 2014; and Law360 as one of only 13 Texas Powerhouse law firms. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 1000. Read more at


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