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Two firefighters killed while battling blaze in Toledo

TNS Regional News • Jan 27, 2014 at 12:37 PM

Two firefighters killed in a blaze Sunday were identified as Stephen A. Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31.

Mr. Machcinski was appointed in 1998 and assigned to Engine No. 3, and Mr. Dickman, recently appointed Sept. 3, 2013.

The firefighters' names were released at a press conference. Fire Chief Luis Santiago promised an investigation of the incident.

Toledo mayor D. Michael Collins asked that flags be flown at half-staff today.

The victims were taken from a residential building at Huron and Magnolia streets that includes a first-floor market about 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Dr. Maneesha Pandey, a Lucas County deputy coroner, said two firefighter deaths were reported to the office around 6 p.m.

Autopsies are scheduled for today.

Mr. Collins arrived at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center after the two firefighters were brought there, where a large crowd of Toledo Fire Department personnel gathered.

Dozens of firefighters gathered at their union hall downtown after the tragedy. The room was silent and many in the crowd stood with somber faces drinking coffee while awaiting official news — although all already knew that two of their own had been killed in the line of duty.

Dan Desmond, Toledo Firefighters Local 92 vice president, said he personally knew the two fallen firefighters but couldn't talk about them.

"Everyone is just numb right now," said Mr. Desmond, a longtime firefighter.

Firefighters and police officers remained at scene of the fatal fire for hours after the blaze. Investigators could be seen moving inside the building. Toledo fire investigator Glen Frames declined to comment on the investigation or the cause of the fire.

Earlier, some residents of the apartment complex said they had fled their homes when fire broke out.

Tracy Bishop, one of the tenants of the near downtown Toledo building that is located close to the Huron Market, said she was in her apartment when she heard the nearby garage door open and then heard it shut.

Suddenly, flames were shooting across her ceiling. She fled, shouting to a nearby neighbor to get out. "It wasn't just smoke. It was fire," she said. Ray Abou, owner of the building, said there were seven tenants in six apartments, and that he believed all tenants had escaped the building. One tenant said her pit bull puppy was unable to flee the burning structure.

Mr. Abou said he heard that the cause of the fire might be electrical in nature. Patricia Rollins, who lives in the complex, said she smelled burned wire. At about 4:15 p.m. firefighters continued to work at the scene. Among equipment were five fire engines.

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Deadly past haunts Toledo's fire crews

The deaths Sunday of two Toledo firefighters were the biggest single loss of lives in the line of duty since the 1961 explosion and deaths of four men on the Anthony Wayne Trail.

In the 177-year history of the Toledo Fire Department, 48 firefighters, including Sunday’s victims, Stephen A. Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31, have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The first fatality occurred in 1872, when James Welch fell from a ladder at a fire at Lafayette and Ottawa streets, according to Toledo Fire Department records. Tragedy struck the Welch family 59 years later when his son, also a firefighter, died in the line of duty.

Toledo’s deceased firefighters are commemorated at the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department Memorial in Chub DeWolf Park across from Station No. 1, honoring 46 firefighters, as well as six others who died while on military duty.

The single largest loss occurred on June 10, 1961, when an overturned gasoline truck exploded on the Anthony Wayne Trail. Reports said the truck’s speed caused the tanker to overturn and crash.

Retired fire Chief William Neeb, speaking at a 2011 memorial for the Trail fire, said the scene that greeted him was difficult to describe, 50 years later.

“Within moments, we were on the scene I can only describe as quite chaos,” he recalled.

Killed were Robert Harrison, William Genson, Glenn Carter, and Deputy Chief Ewald Bode. The four men were injured and died days or weeks later.

Until Sunday’s tragedy, the most recent firefighter to die while on duty was Michael Darrington, 45, whose Feb. 27, 2009, death was attributed to a heart attack.

Mr. Darrington, a 25-year veteran of the fire department, was found dead in the crew quarters’ second floor of Station 14 after failing to report to an emergency call, fire officials said.

Before that, firefighter Donnie Cathcart died when he collapsed while fighting a central-city blaze on May 19, 1981. That blaze also claimed the life of an infant.

Each spring, on the anniversary of the Anthony Wayne Trail fire, the city holds a “last alarm” service at the downtown memorial that draws firefighters, retirees, and families from around the region.

During a 2009 memorial, Fire Chief Luis Santiago noted that firefighters are exposed to an elevated risk of heart problems.

In 2003, heart attacks and strokes were classified by federal law as a line of duty death, and Toledo fire officials began taking steps to ensure firefighters received proper commemoration on the memorial statue.

The federal Hometown Heroes Act sparked the study of firefighters’ health risks and prompted Toledo to dig through station journals to uncover and reclassify on-duty heart attacks and other fatal ailments.

As a result, the Toledo Fire Department memorial lists 14 line-of-duty deaths attributed to heart attacks or other illnesses previously not considered directly caused by their duties.

The tragedy of Toledo’s first firefighter’s death was compounded nearly six decades later when Mr. Welch’s son, Capt. Edward J. Welch, died while battling a blaze at Paddock Merchandise Co. at 114 St. Clair St., fire records show.

The riskiness of firefighting is highlighted by the nature of those 48 deaths.

After heart and other ailments, 12 firefighters died during various operations that fire records often didn’t elaborate on.

Six firefighters died in falls and six others, including the Trail victims, died from burns. Capt. James Fraser burned to death at the King Elevator fire in 1894, and his body was never recovered.

Two firefighters died from falling walls and five died in collisions, including one after a collision with a streetcar on Collingwood Boulevard and Dorr Street in 1901. A second fireman died that year when he fell through the pole hole in Station 13 at Front and Payne streets.

A 1902 fire at Kiefer Brothers Furniture Store at Dorr and Palmwood Avenue claimed two lives. That same year in a separate incident, a firefighter died of injuries at a junk warehouse on Vance Street.

A steamer firetruck fatally ran over a fireman in 1916.

Capt. Andrew Flynn and fireman Bernard Orzechowski died when their rig collided with a Community Traction bus in 1932 and a third man died that year in a fall.

The highest ranking firefighters to die were Chief Karl B. Scheidler, who suffered a heart attack as a result of battling a marsh fire on Nov. 2, 1952; District Chief George Ehmann, who died from injuries suffered in a collision at Lincoln Street and Lawrence Avenue; Deputy Chief Claude Willoughby, who died of a heart attack during a fire at 916 Lagrange St. in 1969, and Deputy Chief Bode in 1961.


Jim Sielicki - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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