Toledo Firefighters Recall Stories About Their Fallen Brothers

An autopsy showed the two died of burns and carbon monoxide.


Local firefighters say one of the best parts of the job is emerging from a fire and seeing the work.

Stephen Machcinski loved that, said Keith Szenderski, a fellow firefighter and friend.

“We all love putting out a fire and then coming out,” Mr. Szenderski said. “Getting to talk about how things went. … I think that’s what he loved. Coming out and seeing how good a job you did.”

Mr. Szenderski paused. “He always came out.”

On Sunday, Mr. Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31, Toledo firefighters, died after being inside a burning apartment building in North Toledo.

They were pulled from the two-story, six-unit building at 528 Magnolia St. and rushed to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead.

Tuesday, the Lucas County Coroner's Office released the findings from autopsies, which were performed on Monday, that showed the firefighters died of burns and exposure to carbon monoxide.

The two were “badly burned all over,” said Dr. Cynthia Beisser, a deputy county coroner. Routine toxicology tests, which could take weeks to come back, are pending.

Fire Chief Luis Santiago did not have any information about the ongoing investigation into the blaze, but said, “We’re going to really start going with a little bit more vigor.”

It was important, he said, to give the firefighters who were on the scene and inside the building on Sunday some time to recover before starting interviews.

Plans to memorialize Mr. Machcinski, a 15-year veteran of the department, and Mr. Dickman, who had fewer than five months of service with the department, on Thursday are under way, with thousands of people expected to flood downtown.

“We are truly expecting folks from literally all over the country and beyond and from Canada to attend and help us pay proper respects,” Chief Santiago said.

The Last Alarm Memorial Service will be held at the SeaGate Convention Centre from 7 to 9 p.m. Seating is limited to 5,000 people, although Chief Santiago said he expects “quite an overflow.” Families of both men will be in attendance, he said.

The memorial “will help tremendously,” he said. “A lot of our members haven’t seen things like this. It will be a great help to a lot of us that are feeling the pain and take our mind off a lot of things we’ve been thinking about over the last few days.”

A party to celebrate the election of Mayor D. Michael Collins was postponed so as to not take attention from the loss of the firefighters.

The “Collins Cares Celebration” had been set for Saturday at the SeaGate Convention Centre downtown. A new date has not been set.

Firefighters who worked with Mr. Machcinski and Mr. Dickman also have found comfort in remembering.

Mr. Machcinski and Jim Swartz, who went through the fire academy together, just had come off probation when their captain put the two in charge of a rescue vehicle. They were grocery-shopping for the station when a call came in deep inside their east-side district.

“I'm driving, he’s trying to get dressed, and he just gets this big grin and says, ‘Can you believe they’re paying us for this?’ ” Mr. Swartz said. “I think that’s the attitude he kept the entire 16 years.”

The firefighters — the rookies, the veterans, and even the retired guys — were like an extended family to Mr. Machcinski, Mr. Swartz said. Anyone who wanted to or had worn the badge was a brother or a sister.

On Monday, Mr. Swartz was approached by a retired firefighter who told a story about Mr. Machcinski buying him a beer at a bar when Mr. Machcinski learned that the retired man recently had lost a family member.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Mr. Swartz said.

He also was the kind of firefighter who wanted to stay on the daily grind, answering calls. Sitting behind a desk, off the streets, wouldn’t have suited him, his friends said.

“He loved his job. He took pride in his job. He was caring, you know? A hard worker,” Mr. Szenderski said.

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