A 34-year veteran of the Philadelphia Fire Department died Wednesday, two days after suffering a medical emergency during a training exercise at the Fire Academy in Holmesburg.
Lt. Benny Hutchins, 62, who joined the department in 1984 and became a lieutenant in 2003, had been going through a survival training exercise at the academy at 5200 Pennypack St., the firefighters union president said Tuesday. It was not clear what Hutchins’ injuries were or what caused his death; department officials declined to give specifics, saying they would wait for the Medical Examiner’s Office to make a ruling.
“We don’t know that he died as a result of this” training, Deputy Commissioner Jesse Wilson said in an interview Wednesday, adding that there will be an investigation.
Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel is in Germany on a fire safety fellowship and was not available to be interviewed.
The agency initiated a department-wide survival training initiative in January, after a 2017 federal report examining why Firefighter Joyce Craig died had recommended the survival course, according to an article about the training on the city’s website.
Hutchins had previously supervised Craig when they worked together at Engine 64 in Crescentville.
Wilson said all firefighters have been going through the three-day survival training program, which teaches them how to escape dangerous situations, and goes over mayday practices and self-extrication skills.
“It’s to keep them alive,” Wilson said. “Many report it’s the best training they’ve received.”
Ed Marks, president of Local 22 of the firefighters union, said about 1,700 firefighters have gone through the training, which was developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
A coworker of Hutchins’ at Ladder 30 in Roxborough, Lt. Tony Knighton, said Wednesday that he went through the program several months ago and found it beneficial but physically demanding. Knighton said that two firefighters had to leave his training because of injuries, and that he left with bruises on his sides.
Knighton said Hutchins — whom he met three decades ago — was known as “Benny the Hat” because he always wore a baseball cap on the job, even in years when it was barred under department policy. Knighton said Hutchins was also a guitarist in local bands.
Dan Oakes, treasurer of the firefighters union, said he worked with Hutchins last year at Engine 54 in Overbrook. Oakes said Hutchins loved being around the firehouse and was closing in on retirement after a long career.
“From all accounts, he loved the job, loved serving the public, loved wearing the uniform,” Wilson said.
Mayor Kenney, whose father was a city firefighter, said in a statement Wednesday that he was “deeply saddened to hear of the loss of firefighter Lt. Benny Hutchins. I am thankful for his outstanding service to our city during his 34-year career with the Philadelphia Fire Department.”
Hutchins was unmarried and had no children. He is survived by his mother, Mary Hutchins; five brothers; four sisters, and numerous nieces and nephews, Wilson said. One brother and three nephews are also Philadelphia firefighters, Wilson said.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
Staff writer Sam Wood contributed to this article.