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Thread: Flare Up, Collapse at Church Blaze Kills Two Pittsburgh Firefighters, Injures 29

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    Flare Up, Collapse at Church Blaze Kills Two Pittsburgh Firefighters, Injures 29

    Updated: 03-15-2004 12:43:04 AM

    Flare Up, Collapse at Church Blaze Kills Two Pittsburgh Firefighters, Injures 29
    At Least Five Bravest in Critical or Serious Condition


    JOE MANDAK
    Associated Press Writer


    Photos by David P. Novak - Incident On Scene Report

    PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Firefighters who thought they had a church fire under control were trapped when the building's roof collapsed Saturday. Two firefighters were killed and 29 were injured, five seriously.

    There had been no sign of structural problems at Ebenezer Baptist Church before its steeple toppled as firefighters doused hot spots, Fire Chief Peter Micheli said. The steeple crashed into the 131-year-old church's basement, where both dead firefighters were found, Micheli said. Firefighters at the scene removed their helmets and turned off warning lights on their vehicles in tribute as each body was removed.

    Five firefighters suffered serious or critical head and chest injuries, said city Operations Director Bob Kennedy. At least one was undergoing surgery, four others needed to be hospitalized, Kennedy said.

    The cause of Saturday morning's blaze appeared to an electrical fire in the basement ``that jumped up the walls and spread rapidly,'' Kennedy said.

    The senior pastor of the church, the Rev. J. Van Alfred Winsett, told Pittsburgh television stations that the congregation was preparing for a breakfast when the fire started.

    Some firefighters were injured when the blaze flashed over, knocking one off a ladder and causing minor burns to the faces of five others, Micheli said. Most were hurt about an hour later when the steeple toppled, taking much of the roof with it.

    The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies will investigate the cause of the fire and how it was fought, Kennedy said.

    Firefighters Richard A. Stefanakis, 51, and Charles G. Brace, 55, both of Pittsburgh, died in the blaze, the Allegheny County Coroner's Office said. Brace was a battalion chief. Autopsies were scheduled for Sunday.

    Micheli said he was at a loss about what to say to the victims' families.

    ``You have to go through it to know what they're going through,'' Micheli said. ``No matter what you say or try to say, it's devastating.''

    Additional Details from the Associated Press

    Both firefighters who perished were trapped in the rubble. One was located by his Personal Alert Safety System alarm, a device attached to the life support system that sends out a loud sound if the firefighter is immobilized for a short period of time.

    The other firefighter also had an alarm, but rescue crews did not use it after determining that he was in an area of the building where he could not have survived.


    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=39&id=27514

    Photo Below
    by David P. Novak



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    First Report From the Scene

    First Report From the Scene

    DAVID P. NOVAK
    Special to Firehouse.com

    On Saturday, March 13, 2004 shortly after 9:00a.m. City of Pittsburgh EOC received a report of a possible electrical fire in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, located at 2001 Wylie Avenue in the Hill District neighborhood of the City of Pittsburgh.

    First arriving crews reported heavy smoke inside a large, 75'x75' church, with a possible fire in the basement. Crews advanced attack lines to the basement, where they discovered very heavy smoke and heat conditions and were searching for the seat of the fire.

    Command requested a 2nd alarm assignment for additional manpower. Interior crews in the basement advised command that the fire appears to be above them, in the ceiling area.

    Within minutes, the 3rd alarm was struck for additional manpower, as crews were having difficulty locating the seat of the fire. As conditions inside the church continued to rapidly deteriorate, command ordered all crews out of the building at approximately 9:25a.m.

    As the last of the crews were evacuating, a flashover occurred, injuring several firefighters. The injured firefighters were rushed to local hospitals, there condition was not known at the time of this article.

    Command requested a 4th alarm assignment at approximately 9:34a.m. At this time, a defensive attack was established, with numerous aerial master streams, deck guns and hose lines in operation.

    Approximately 75 firefighters battled the intense flames for several hours, before knocking down the main body of fire. At approximately 12:20p.m. crews were able to re-enter the heavily damaged church, to begin dousing the hot spots.

    Approximately 7 minutes later, without warning, tragedy struck. The church collapsed, sending large timbers to crash through the floors and into the basement, as well as bricks and concrete block crashing to the street below, striking and injuring approximately 25-30 firefighters on the ground, and trapping 2 firefighters deep beneath the rubble inside the church.

    City of Pittsburgh EMS along with multiple outside EMS agencies rushed the injured firefighters to numerous hospitals and trauma centers in the area. An immediate search was underway for the two unaccounted for firefighters.

    Multiple rescuers including a USAR Strike Team from Westmoreland County, rushed to the scene to assist in searching for the trapped firefighters. The team is also is compromised of 24 Pittsburgh EMS Paramedics and Firefighters who were also on the scene and assisted in the recovery efforts.

    Shortly after 2:00p.m. Search crews located the bodies of the two firefighters beneath the mounds of rubble.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=39&id=27514

    http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/fire/

    Photo below
    Ed Galicic

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    Fallen firefighters called veterans who didn't shy from risks

    Fallen firefighters called veterans who didn't shy from risks
    Sunday, March 14, 2004

    By Barbara White Stack, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    The two firefighters killed yesterday in the blaze that destroyed Ebenezer Baptist Church were longtime veterans who had faced down death in the line of duty before and who had rescued their colleagues from other fires.


    Battalion Chief Charles Brace, 55, of Brookline and firefighter Richard Stefanakis, 51, of Knoxville, had worked for the city fire department since the early 1970s knowing "the beast can take you at any time," said Joe King, president of Fire Fighters Union Local 1.

    King, who knew both men because they all started at about the same time, also said he'd never seen so many firefighters -- at least 27 -- injured in a single blaze. Five of those were in critical condition last night.

    King said that when Brace joined the force in 1973, he was assigned to a station in Manchester. They would relieve each other, King working daylight, Brace at night. They'd kid each other about who was doing a better job, King recalled.

    Brace, battalion chief for the 4th District headquartered on the South Side, began yesterday at the Uptown fire station at 1334 Forbes Ave., helping 160 firefighters don their dress uniforms for the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

    King was there, too, and the last words Brace said to him were, "Hey prez, I just made you a fresh pot of coffee," the union president recalled last night.

    Later, at the fire scene at 2001 Wylie Ave. in the Hill District, King and some of the firefighters whom Brace had helped get dressed dug through the church rubble for his body.

    They threw off their crisp uniforms and pulled on the protective suits that had been removed from the injured firefighters.

    Firefighters were ordered out of the church about 9:25 a.m. because the fire was spreading too quickly.

    King said that at some point around noon, Brace and possibly Stefanakis went inside the church to decide where to place unmanned hoses to "surround and drown'' the remaining flames. That is one of the jobs of a battalion chief, King said.

    Suddenly, the steeple area of the church fell in, burying Brace and other firefighters.

    Brace was commended in 1997 for his actions in another church fire. William J. Tangalos, president of the parish council at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland, praised Brace for leading the effort to save the church altar from a fire there.

    King explained that often, even though no one is in a church, as was the case yesterday, firefighters go inside to try to save precious religious items, such as scrolls in a synagogue or a valuable organ.

    Stefanakis started his career in 1972 at the old fire station at 344 Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown.

    When that closed in 1992, he moved to the No. 3 station at 14th Street and Penn Avenue in the Strip District.

    "We had a couple of fires together," King said, "we watched each other's back and got each other out.

    "There was no hesitation in the man. If you were going in, he would go in behind you. He was never one to step away from a risky situation."

    One time, King fell from a ladder when his hands froze up. Stefanakis yelled, "There's one coming," to another firefighter, the late Mike Suska, and Suska managed to catch King, probably saving his life.

    Because Stefanakis worked Downtown much of his career, it would have been his job to fight particularly dangerous blazes in tall buildings, King said.

    "These are guys who live on the edge," King said. "After it is all over, the next day, you visit that structure and say, 'My God, I was there,' and start realizing, 'I could have gotten seriously hurt in this thing.' "

    King said both of the men who died were married and had children.

    He said firefighters were at the homes last night, comforting the families.

    Within minutes of the steeple collapse, firefighters knew Brace and Stefanakis were seriously injured because they could not be reached on their radios, King said.

    After the 1995 Bricelyn Street fire in Brushton in which three trapped firefighters died, the department improved its communication system.

    Now, after a certain period of time, if a firefighter does not check in, "We know we have to find them," King said.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04074/285739.stm
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    (Staff writer Barbara White Stack can be reached at bwhitestack@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.)

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    Funeral Information

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Funeral Information
    Visitation for Charles G. Brace is at the L. Beinhauer & Son Funeral Home at 2630 West Liberty Ave, Dormont, PA. 15216. Burial will be at the Queen of Heaven Cemetary.

    Richard A. Stefanakis

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    Thousands Remember Pittsburgh's Fallen Firefighters


    Updated: 03-18-2004 10:05:15 PM

    Thousands Remember Pittsburgh's Fallen Firefighters


    Story by The Pittsburgh Channel
    http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/index.html


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