Six Detroit Firefighters Injured in Building Collapse


One of the six Detroit firefighter's injured in Friday's building fire has been upgraded from critical to fair condition at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

Eric Jurmo, 31, suffered injuries when a wall collapsed, trapping firefighters in the building located at Jefferson and Dickerson streets in Detroit. He has 11 years with the department.

Firefighter Brendan Milewski, 30, was also in fair condition at Detroit Receiving Hospital. He has 11 years with the department.

Brian Baulch, 31, was in serious condition at St. John Hospital. He has nine years with the department.

Gerald Rutkowski, 46, was also in serious condition at Royal Oak Beaumont. He has 23 years with the department.

Jeron Whitehorn, 30, was treated at St. John and released. He has eight years with the department.

Shane Raxter, 37, was treated at St. John and released. He has nine years with the department.

The two-story building partially collapsed during what investigators are calling a suspicious blaze.

Detroit Fire Commissioner James Macks says when the building crumbled just after 7 a.m.; bricks fell onto the firefighters, resulting in broken bones, including elbows, ribs and pelvises for many of the firefighters.

"When you have large pieces of concrete and large pieces of a brick wall come down on you, these are crushing injuries. Bones are not just broken -- they are crushed," said Steven Kirschner of the Detroit Firefighters Association.

Fire personnel arrived at the scene at 6 a.m. and extinguished the blaze, but it rekindled more than two hours later after they had left, Mack said.

Lt. Robert Puckett, 50, was injured while battling the first blaze. He was treated at a nearby hospital and released.

Around 9:30 p.m., Detroit Mayor Dave Bing arrived at Receiving Hospital.

"It's a tough situation to deal with," Bing said. "You don't know the people, but since I've been in this office, they're are part of my family, too."

Bing said he had already met with the families of the injured firefighters.

"Everybody is pulling together," he said.

A large group of firefighters had also gathered outside the hospital.

"It does break our hearts, but our hearts are already broken," one firefighter said outside the hospital. "We're just going to try to be tough and support their families. We have some serious injuries going on here. It's a life-changing day for all of us."

Fire Department often refers to themselves as a brotherhood, but Local 4 has learned about a true brotherly bond on the department.

Lt. Gerald Rutkowski was rescued from the fire by his firefighter brother Tom Rutkowski.

Tom Rutkowski said he was not allowed to talk about the rescue because of Fire Department rules, but former DFD Chief Raymond Hamm said Tom was about to leave the fire when he heard a loud explosion and realized his brother was still battling the blaze.

"The next thing you know he sees these guys buried in the rubble and yanked him out. He seen a bald-headed Gerry and yanked him out," said Hamm.

"He's a good fireman. His brother is a good fireman. They do their job," he added.

The fire at the building near Jefferson Avenue and Dickerson Street was classified as a two-alarm fire. The building is about five miles from downtown Detroit and just west of the suburb of Grosse Pointe Park.

Mack said the incident is being investigated as an arson. Fire investigators are reviewing aerial photography from above the fire and are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to figure out exactly where the fire started.

"The job is dangerous. We don't need situations in this city where people are starting fires," Mack said. "People think this is a joke or think it's funny. But we don't need it because people can get hurt. People can get killed."

The building housed a phone business, beauty salon and liquor store. Many nearby residents were evacuated and members of the media were asked to relocate because the chemicals inside of the building were igniting and releasing toxic fumes.

Clouds of dark smoke shrouded the scene mid-morning but dissipated as crews poured water on top of the building.

Witnesses said they heard two loud explosions before seeing the flames.

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