Chicago firefighter shot at fire scene improving

June 30, 2008 2:28:17 PM PDT
A Chicago arson investigator is recovering after being shot while responding to a fire call early Sunday morning.While the search is now on for the person responsible, authorities have announced changes in departmental policy as a result of the shooting.

The firefighter, 45-year-old Donald Cox, underwent surgery and was hospitalized in serious condition Sunday. On Monday morning, he was upgraded to fair condition. He was shot in the 2900 block of East 80th Place at approximately 3:30 a.m. Sunday while investigating what started a suspicious fire on the city's Southeast Side.

"The arson investigators usually work by themselves in one-man cars. They'll [now] be in two-man cars," said Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Raymond Orozco.

It's a policy change for the sake of safety. Orozco made the announcement at an annual firefighters picnic, just hours after Cox, one of the department's own, was wounded by gunfire while on duty.

" The fire was so high I thought it was on my house," said the homeowner, who asked not to be identified because she fears reprisals by neighborhood gang members. She says those members threw a Molotov Cocktail at one of her back windows because of a ongoing dispute with one of her family members.

The homeowner also says the real trouble began a little before 5 a.m. Sunday after firefighters put out the blaze and left the scene and a fire department investigator showed up alone to look into the questionable fire.

"I heard four or five heavy shots that were shaking my house," the homeowner said.

Officials say the arson investigator called for help on his radio as at least one neighborhood resident called 9-1-1.

The firefighter was rushed to Northwestern Memorial hospital with a gunshot wound to his left side as family members began to arrive.

Authorities say the firefighter is an 18-year veteran of the department and worked out of a station house before moving to the Office of Fire Investigation approximately three years ago.

Those firefighters who know the victim would only talk about the incident and their colleague off-camera.

While some did acknowledge all the potential dangers of the job, Commissioner Orozco says he's glad the result of the violence wasn't fatal and that safety of firefighters remains a priority.

"I spoke with him alone after his wife did. If I was shot, I'd think that was critical," Orozco told reporters.

Commissioner Orozco says, to his knowledge, the last time a Chicago firefighter was shot and wounded was back in 1968.

The arson investigator is expected to make a full recovery. Police are searching for the shooter.


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