Illinois Firefighter Killed in House Fire

FORREST -- A Fairbury firefighter was killed and another injured while battling a blaze Tuesday night that heavily damaged a home in Forrest, the Fairbury fire chief said early today. The firefighter, whose name was not released early today, died at OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center, Pontiac, Chief Leroy McPherson said.

The other firefighter suffered relatively minor injuries, he said.

Fire broke out about 7:45 p.m. at the home of Todd and Judy Somers, 316 W. Watson St.

At first bystanders saw just smoke coming out of the house, but then there was a loud sound and flames erupted from the building.

"There was a big whooshing sound. It sounded like a floor collapsing to me," neighbor Eric Eisenman said. Firefighters then began pouring out of the house.

Eric and Rita Eisenman soon saw emergency medical technicians performing CPR on a firefighter at the scene. They also saw firefighters crying.

The fire was reported by residents Todd and Judy Somers. She was inside the house with the three children when she smelled smoke.

"At first I thought it was the dryer so I went and turned it off," Somers said. "The smoke persisted, so I began to investigate the rest of the house and opened the basement door and smoke just started rolling out."

Somers got her children out of the house and called to her husband, who was outside. The family called 911.

Forrest firefighters arrived quickly. They soon were joined by firefighters from Fairbury, Chatsworth, Pontiac, Cullom and Strawn fire departments.

Fire swept through the two-story, stucco wood-frame home. Somers said it took about two hours to get the fire under control.

Saunemin Fire chief Gary Swartz said the state fire marshal's office was called to send an investigator.

A Country Financial insurance representative was at the scene, Somers said.

Police blocked the street at both ends of the block, and about 15 bystanders watched at the scene.

Eisenman said he walked by the Somers house about 10 minutes before the fire. He said he saw Todd Somers blowing leaves off the sidewalk.

A short time later he heard the commotion, he and his wife, Rita, headed to the scene.

After 11 p.m., the Eisenmans sat in the bed of their pickup truck just up the street while firefighters worked to clean up and investigate the scene.

"It's a small town, close-knit," Rita Eisenman said. "It's so very sad to see something like this happen."