CINCINNATI (AP) — A Cincinnati Fire Department probe of a veteran firefighter's death found that he plunged headfirst into an elevator shaft just after a fellow firefighter wrote a warning on its door in the dark, smoky building, officials said Friday.
City authorities released their preliminary report on three-decade veteran Daryl Gordon's death March 26 in the four-alarm, early morning fire. City officials said the findings will be used to assess operating procedures, training, equipment and other factors with the goal of reducing risk to firefighters. Fire Chief Richard Braun said it was fitting it was released on Sept. 11, a special day for firefighters to remember those who died in the 2001 terror attacks and in the line of duty since.
Investigators said a firefighter used a black marker to write "Do Not Enter Open Shaft" on the fifth-floor elevator door about two minutes before Gordon went through it as he searched for residents to rescue.
"The visibility conditions were very poor," said Ed Dadosky, an assistant fire chief who led an investigative group.
Dadosky said heavy radio traffic interfered with efforts to broadcast an alert about the elevator. He said ways to improve communications or such markings could be among steps considered in the coming effort to develop changes to increase firefighter safety.
Dadoksy also said that the elevator door resembled the kind of door on a janitor's closet and hadn't locked.
"Suffice it to say it was easy to open," Dadosky said, adding that it was then a very short step into the elevator shaft.
Investigators said Gordon fell three floors, or 22 to 23 feet, landing wedged between the elevator car and wall. Minutes later, firefighters searching for him looked into the elevator shaft and saw a fire helmet on top of the elevator car, the report stated. Firefighters used extrication equipment, and Gordon was taken to a hospital where he died from his injuries a little more than an hour after he had first arrived at the fire scene, the report showed.
The report showed that the last contact with Gordon before his fall came about a minute earlier as he encountered another firefighter escorting two residents and asked who he was. The firefighter responded, then asked who he was.
"I'm Daryl Gordon," he replied, then headed back down the fifth floor hallway, the report stated.
Cincinnati investigators earlier concluded the fire's cause was accidental, ignited by food left unattended on a stove. Three other firefighters had injuries, and three residents were treated at hospitals, the report stated. A total 21 residents were rescued.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is also investigating the fatal fire.
Large crowds of Cincinnati officials, residents, and firefighters from around the country turned out for services honoring the 54-year-old Gordon, a married father of two daughters.
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