Feds: Poor communication before firefighter deaths

September 23, 2011 4:03:03 PM PDT
Last December, two Chicago firefighters died when the roof of a burning building came down on them. Now the results of a federal investigation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) into their deaths have been released.

The fire claimed the lives of firefighters Corey Ankum and Edward Stringer.

The report is critical of the Chicago Fire Department, claiming poor communication contributed to the deaths of the two men.

The structure that created a deadly situation for the two firefighters is gone. City officials and firefighters now hope to improve conditions at future fire scenes.

"This is an ever evolving job. This is a job that things change and you can always learn something. What our goal is, and NIOSH's goal, is that hopefully this will never happen again," said Tom Ryan, Chicago Fire Fighter Union, Local 2.

In December of 2010, a report of a vacant building fire came in during shift change. Six minutes after the fire was under control the bowstring truss roof failed. A frantic search began for trapped firefighters. Nineteen firefighters were injured. Stringer and Ankum were killed.

An investigation by the NIOSH recommends the department find ways to:

  • identify dangerous buildings
  • manage safety risk to public, firefighters and property with abandoned buildings
  • communicate conditions to incident commander as soon as possible and give regular updates
  • provide battalion chief an assistant to help manage communication
  • develop procedure regarding abandoned buildings
  • provide all firefighters radios
  • "In this particular case it may not have made any difference but for general best practice in the fire service every firefighter should have a radio," said Tim Merinar, NIOSH.

    Chicago fire departments have made some changes including tags to identify all personnel working on the scene, Information about abandoned buildings is now included in the alarm information and a new radio system is being implemented.

    Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Robert Hoff released a statement saying in part: "It is important to note that I do not agree with the conclusion that a lack of radios for each member contributed to this tragic event. This was not a case of a firefighter being cutoff or lost and unable to communicate. Each member was in close proximity to another member who had a radio."

    As attention is paid to the report, Chicago firefighters prepare to mourn those lost. This weekend, the union holds an annual memorial service. Firefighters Ankum and Stringer will be remembered at Sunday's event.

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