Photo credit: KDKA-TV
Pittsburgh (KDKA) The final report into a fire and collapse at an historic Hill District Church that killed two firefighters won't be released until Friday; but KD Investigator Marty Griffin got a sneak peek at the report that reveals a number of mistakes -- that turned out to be deadly.
Master firefighter Richard A. Stefanakis, 51, and battalion chief Charles G. Brace, 55, died on March 13th after the bell tower of the Ebenezer Baptist Church collapsed while they and others were inside the church dousing the hot spots.
"Firefighters were placed in the front vestibule for just a matter of overhaul and mop up -- which is a standard operating procedure -- and the bell tower came down." -- Peter Micheli, Fire Chief (March 13, 2004)
While investigators have yet to determine the exact cause and origin of the fire, the board of inquiry details several glaring misjudgments in the way firefighters fought the fire.
According to the report, firefighters thought the bell tower that collapsed was solid stone -- when it was actually much weaker brick with a stone facade.
The report also criticizes the decision to try and save the church's stained glass windows, which were covered in Plexiglas. According to the board, the failure to vent the fire by breaking windows caused the back draft that injured several firefighters.
Finally the report points out in its most critical assessment that "command should know risk versus gain" when determining the value of fighting a fire versus the risk to firefighters -- implying that there was no good reason to be inside the church once the main fire was out.
Days after her husband's death, Stephanie Stefanikis raised similar questions about why her husband was sent into the church while it was unstable. "Like 80-percent of that church was gone," Stefanikis told KDKA, " I don't understand why they were in the last 20-percent that was left. For what, you know? He may have been alive today -- Charlie and him. I just don't feel like they should have been there..."
As for the report, Stefanikis says nothing about it surprised her.
Late this afternoon, Pittsburgh Fire Chief Peter Micheli told KDKA he was upset that the information had been released early -- saying "I'm gonna find out who the [expletive] made that leak and there's gonna be a problem."
The full report will be formally released at a news conference this Friday.
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