CFD Responds to Feds' Review of Fatal Fire

Fire Cmsr. Hoff says the department agrees with many of the findings -- but not the lack of radios

By Lisa Balde
|  Friday, Sep 23, 2011  |  Updated 2:07 PM CDT
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Several firefighters transported to hospital, at least two firefighters in critical condition

Several firefighters transported to hospital, at least two firefighters in critical condition

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A federal investigation into the blaze that killed two Chicago firefighters last Decemberr says lack of communication, lack of radios and lack of a vacant-building marking program contributed to the deaths.

The report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health gave a list of key recommendations to the fire department in July, pointing to contributing factors to the two deaths and dozen other injuries.

Among those recommendations: provide each firefighter with a radio and train them how to use it, and develop operating procedures for dealing with abandoned and vacant buildings.

Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff said Friday the department agrees with many of the findings and has made changes to incorporate them, including ways to improve the flow of information about risk factors.

But Hoff disputes that a lack of radios for each firefighter contributed to what happened.

"This was not a case of a firefighter being cutoff or lost and unable to communicate," Hoff said in a statement. "Each member was in close proximity to another member who had a radio."

Corey Ankum, 34, and Edward Stringer, 47, died last year while searching for people inside a former dry cleaning business, at 1744 E. 75th St., on the city's South Side. The building had been vacant for the previous five years and became a favorite spot for homeless people seeking shelter from the winter weather.

Ankum and Stringer were inside when the roof collapsed on them.

Ankum had been on the force for nearly two years. Stringer was a 12-year veteran.

The federal report points out city officials had previously cited the building's owners for the structure's deteriorated condition, ordering it to either be repaired or demolished.

The building should have been identified and marked in some way to prevent hazard to firefighters and the public, according to the report.

Other recommendations include training firefighters to communicate interior conditions as soon as possible and to provide battalion chiefs with an aide to help manage information.

Hoff said the department has since improved communication to help scene commanders make educated decisions and has implemented a program to display important info to first responders on an in-vehicle screen.

The blaze broke out at around 7 a.m. that day. The fire was upgraded from two alarms to three alarms after the firefighters were trapped.

"This remains a dangerous profession," said Hoff on Friday, "but I will do all I can to make sure we have the tools and information to make sure each of our members  go home safely after each tour."

The Chicago Fire Department Office of Fire Investigation later determined the fire was sparked by an "open flame ignition of ordinary combustibles / wood/ rubbish."

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