Toledo firefighters rush a fellow firefighter down the stairs of a six unit apartment building at 528 Magnolia in Toledo.
Photo credit: AP Photo/The Blade, Jetta Fraser
Two Toledo firefighters were killed on Sunday while battling an apartment complex fire in North Toledo -- the city’s first firefighter fatalities from an active blaze since 1981.
Stephen A. Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31, died of injuries sustained while fighting a fire at 528 Magnolia St.
Private Machcinski had more than 15 years of service. Private Dickman was appointed to the department in September. His fire class of 51 recruits, sworn in on Sept. 3, has not yet had its graduation ceremony.
Privates Machcinski and Dickman were among the firefighters who went into a six-unit apartment building after a blaze was reported at 2:47 p.m.
A despondent Fire Chief Luis Santiago, at a news conference Sunday night at the downtown headquarters, said that inside the burning building the two — who were both assigned to Engine 3 — suffered fatal injuries.
Firefighters went into the building to look for Privates Machcinski and Dickman, who were lost in the fire for several minutes, according to radio traffic.
“After what could be described as valiant efforts” the two were pulled from the still-burning building and other firefighters “began immediate … life-saving’’ attempts, Chief Santiago said. The two were then taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center where they were pronounced dead.
Dr. Maneesha Pandey, a Lucas County deputy coroner, said autopsies are scheduled for today.
Chief Santiago did not take questions from the media after the news conference, but promised a “detailed investigation,” with the help of “many agencies,” would take place.
Mayor D. Michael Collins, at the news conference, said firefighters and police officers are different in that “they run into harm’s way instead of running away” from it.
The mayor asked that, starting at 8 a.m. today, flags around the community be flown at half-staff out of respect for firefighters and their families.
After the news conference, Mayor Collins said Mr. Dickman’s parents, who live in Mansfield, Ohio, were escorted to Toledo by the Ohio Highway Patrol on Sunday.
“This is an indelible thing that can never be erased,” Mayor Collins said.
Firefighters could be seen removing the second firefighter from the back part of the building still engulfed in smoke around 3:30 p.m. The firefighter, laid on a stretcher, was taken away by Lucas County EMS.
Over the next two hours, firefighters doused the smoking structure with water. Flames occasionally erupted from the roof.
Officials at the scene did not speak to reporters, and additional details about the fire were unavailable on Sunday. Chief Santiago said additional information would be provided as it's available.
Patricia Rollins lives in the upstairs of the building. She watched in near-tears from a snowy sidewalk across the street as firefighters battled the blaze.
She said she smelled burned wire, but didn’t see any smoke until a neighbor downstairs yelled a warning to her.
Ms. Rollins said she tried to save her dog, a “pit bull”-type puppy, but was unable to retrieve the dog. She left her house wearing pajama pants and without any socks or her inhaler.
Her neighbor Tracy Bishop, another tenant of the building, said her apartment is behind a garage, and she heard the garage door open and shut.
“And then all of a sudden I look up and there’s fire. I’m like ‘Oh my God’ the place is on fire,” Ms. Bishop said.
She called out to Ms. Rollins, who lives above her, to leave the building because she saw flames near her ceiling.
“It wasn’t just smoke, it was fire,” Ms. Bishop said, adding later, “My whole livelihood is in there.”
Lucas County records show the two-story, mixed residential and commercial building has been owned by Ray and Mariam Abouarab since 1992, when the sale price was $36,000. Its current value is $101,500. The primary structure was built in 1877, according to county records.
Several fires have been reported at the 137-year-old North Toledo building several times over the past two decades -- including in December, 1996, December, 1998, and September, 2002.
Six residential units are located adjacent to and behind the Huron Market carryout. The owner, who watched firefighters work to put out the fire, said seven people lived in the units and none were injured. He said he recently spent about $2,500 to fix the plumbing on the residential side after this month’s deep freeze caused problems.
Another apartment building Mr. Abouarab owned caught fire twice within in a six-month period a decade ago. That five-unit complex at 809 North Huron St. — which Mr. Abouarab sold in 2007, according to county records — was on fire in August, 2002, and again in January, 2003.
The rear of an adjacent structure was badly damaged in Sunday’s fire.
Toledo firefighters, some still dressed in turn-out gear, crowded an ambulance drop-off lobby inside Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center on Sunday night, hours after two of their own were rushed there.
Toledo fire paramedics, responding to other emergency calls at other locations, continued to bring patients to the hospital. Calls for service don't stop for heartbreak.
Dozens of firefighters gathered at their union hall downtown Sunday evening. 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 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.
Former Toledo Mayor Mike Bell who was the city's fire chief from 1990 to 2007 and the state fire marshal from then until just before starting his first mayoral campaign, could not be reached for comment.
The American Red Cross of Northwest Ohio helped six adults and two children, including occupants of the nearby structure, find a place to stay Sunday.
Staff Writers Taylor Dungjen and Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.