Cause of fatal fire still under investigationWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Rapidly deteriorating conditions” led to the deaths of two Toledo firefighters on Jan. 26, but the cause of the blaze remains under investigation, Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago said Jan. 27 during a news conference at Station 1 firehouse in Downtown Toledo.
Pvts. James Dickman, 31, and Stephen Machcinski, 42, died Jan. 26 at Mercy St. Vincent Hospital from injuries sustained while fighting a structure fire at 528 Magnolia St. in North Toledo.
“The only thing I can really tell you at this time is the two firefighters we lost were battling that fire and there were rapid changes, rapid deterioration of conditions, that they were involved in,” Santiago said. “I apologize for not being able to tell you more. I wish I could, but we want to do our due diligence and for these kinds of things to be done right, they take time. So we are definitely taking our time and we will leave no stone unturned.”
Santiago declined to comment on whether the cause of the fire is suspected to be accidental or arson.
“There is so much investigation to still take place that the cause, we are very far from right now,” he said.
He also said he wasn’t yet able to comment on specifics about the conditions at the structure, how long the two firefighters were inside or where they were found, citing the ongoing investigation.
Both men were pulled from the building by fellow firefighters, received medical treatment on scene and died later at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, according to an announcement on the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department (TFD) website.
“There was transmissions that there was trouble because of rapidly deteriorating conditions and we had crews that were ready to go for just such an emergency and they were put into action and put into service and they accomplished what they were there to accomplish,” Santiago said.
Santiago said he arrived on the scene as one of the two men was being pulled from the structure and the other was pulled out shortly after.
“We’re all trained to maintain our professionalism and our composure in things like this. As far as the folks on scene, they did a spectacular job along those lines,” Santiago said. “I didn’t spend much time on the scene. I went to the hospital shortly after that. But the gravity of all this, it’s going to take some days.”
Machcinski was with Toledo Fire and Rescue for 16 years. He is survived by his parents, a brother and a sister, Santiago said.
Dickman was a rookie with TFD, having previously served with the Perkins Township Fire Department. He had been with the Toledo department since September. He is survived by his wife, 3-year-old daughter, 1-month-old son, parents and two sisters, Santiago said.
The two men are the 48th and 49th Toledo firefighters to die in the line of duty in the 177-year history of the Toledo Fire & Rescue Department, Santiago said.
Mayor D. Michael Collins, his voice breaking several times, also spoke at the news conference, saying that Toledo lost two dedicated public servants.
“The average person would run in the opposite direction than they do, but that is their profession,” said Collins, a retired Toledo police officer. “The tragedy that occurred is ever looming on every single safety force officer in this community or any community for that matter.”
Collins also echoed Santiago in saying that officials are dedicated to finding answers.
“To speculate on answers serves none of us a purpose other than perhaps to take a terrible situation and make it worse,” Collins said. “As Chief Santiago said, we are going to do everything we can to determine all the relevant issues involving this tragedy.”
Collins also said Ohio Gov. John Kasich had called to express his sympathies and let Toledo know that flags were flying at half-mast over all state buildings out of respect for the two fallen firefighters.
“We will get through this, but it’s not going to be a very easy situation and the holes in the hearts will not be fixed with any simple solutions,” Collins said.
Santiago suggested that community members looking for a way to help consider donating to the Toledo Fire and Rescue Foundation through the Toledo Police Federal Credit Union and Toledo Fire Fighters Federal Credit Union.
Santiago said he didn’t know Dickman well, but knew from talking to his family that he loved being a firefighter.
“He absolutely loved what he did. This was his dream job, and I heard it more than once,” Santiago said. “His true love and his true desire was to work for the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department and he was so impressed, he was so happy, with the structure it provided and the type of work it did, with the frequency that we do it. He was just so very excited to be doing what he was doing.”
Of Machcinski, Santiago said he was “a great firefighter” and “a great member of our department.”
“They are both going to be a great, great loss to us,” he said.
Santiago also asked for respect and privacy for the two families.
“Our No. 1 priority is being there for them in any way we can be there for them,” Santiago said. “It’s very traumatic for us as a department, but I can only imagine from the family members’ perspective.
“They are still trying to come to grips with the reality of what happened,” Santiago said. “We’re trying to support them in any way we can, but also at the same time respect their wishes.”
The TFD officials at the news conference all wore black bands over the badges on their shirts. Santiago said all the fire houses are also flying a purple and black funeral flag at half-mast beneath the American flag at full staff.
Santiago said there are chaplains and mental health professionals available to anyone who needs to talk — not to mention fellow firefighters and department staff.
“We are a band of brothers and sisters that we make ourselves available to each other and we’re there to help each other,” Santiago said. “We’re a family, we’re a team and we discussed last night at St. V’s that for this part and going beyond, it’s going to be very important to stick together and I think we’re all in.”
Tags: D. Michael Collins, James Dickman, Jamie Dickman, Luis Santiago, Stephen Machcinski, Steve Machcinski, Toledo Fire and Rescue, Toledo Fire and Rescue Foundation, Toledo Fire Department, Toledo Fire Fighters Federal Credit Union, Toledo Police Federal Credit Union