Fireman dies after blaze
Witnesses said some people jumped from apartments
By Taylor Atkins
Published Tuesday, August 14, 2007
A Topeka firefighter died Monday after fighting a fire at an apartment building in southwest Topeka.
Capt. Anthony P. Cox, a 21-year veteran of the Topeka Fire Department, died Monday evening after battling a blaze near S.W. 27th and Wanamaker Road, city spokesman David Bevens said at about midnight Monday.
Fire department spokesman Greg Bailey said that as of late Monday he didn't know the cause of death or whether it was related to the fire or heat exhaustion.
Bailey said firefighters responded to the report of the structure fire at about 6:20 p.m. at the Villa West Apartments, 6058 S.W. 27th. Firefighters first on scene found two residents still within the building and called for rescue units.
Bailey said the rescues were successful. He couldn't say the cause of the fire or if a cause was known.
Residents of the neighboring apartment buildings said sirens from the approaching fire engines were the first clue there was a problem at the complex.
Mark and Sherry Knapp said once the sirens were heard, they ran outside to see flames coming from a neighboring building.
"It was pretty dramatic, like something you would see on TV," Mark Knapp said. "There were these two guys yelling for help. Finally they just jumped out of the window."
Several witnesses reported seeing residents of the two-story building jump to safety, but none seemed injured from the fall.
Sally Ebeling, who watched the scene with a crowd of more than 50, said the only injury she witnessed was the fallen firefighter.
"They came out and started taking off their gear," Ebeling said about a group of firefighters who had been working to control the blaze. "Then one guy just hit the ground. They took of his fire pants and cut off his shirt. They gave him oxygen and put him in the ambulance."
Cox was taken to a Topeka hospital by ambulence at about 6:45 p.m. Bailey said it is unknown whether Cox died on the scene or was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Witnesses said the fire was contained before 7 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., residents of the charred building watched as firefighters assessed the damages.
The east side of the building had turned black, and the air was thick with the smell of charcoal.
Those affected had few words to share. They exchanged theories on what happened and called loved ones in tears.
Bailey said anyone who has information on the fire or photos and video footage from the apartment complex from Monday evening should call Crime Stoppers at (785) 234-0007.
He couldn't say if the fire was being investigated as arson.
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