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

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    Flare Up, Collapse at Church Blaze Kills Two Pittsburgh Firefighters

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


    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.


    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.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    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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    Brace, Charles G

    Age: 55
    Cause of Death: Struck By/Contact with Object
    Rank: Battalion Chief
    Nature of Death: Asphyxiation (includes drowning)
    Status: Career
    Emergency Duty: Yes
    Incident Date: 03/13/2004

    Duty Type: Fireground Operations
    Incident Time: 08:46
    Activity Type: Advancing Hose Lines/Fire Attack
    Death Date: 03/13/2004
    Fixed Prop. Use: Public Assembly

    Fire Dept. Info:
    Pittsburgh Fire Bureau
    200 Ross Street, 6th Floor
    Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania 15219
    Chief: Peter J. Micheli, Jr.

    Initial Summary:
    Battalion Chief Brace and Firefighter Stefanakis were killed and many others injured when the bell tower of a church collapsed on them while they were inside extinguishing remaining hot spots.

    http://www.usfa.fema.gov/application...eath_year=2004

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    Stefanakis, Richard A

    Age: 51
    Cause of Death: Struck By/Contact with Object
    Rank: Firefighter
    Nature of Death: Asphyxiation (includes drowning)
    Status: Career
    Emergency Duty: Yes

    Incident Date: 03/13/2004
    Duty Type: Fireground Operations
    Incident Time: 08:46
    Activity Type: Advancing Hose Lines/Fire Attack
    Death Date: 03/13/2004
    Fixed Prop. Use: Public Assembly

    Fire Dept. Info:
    Pittsburgh Fire Bureau
    200 Ross Street, 6th Floor
    Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania 15219
    Chief: Peter J. Micheli, Jr.

    Initial Summary:
    Firefighter Stefanakis and Battalion Chief Brace were killed and many others injured when the bell tower of a church collapsed on them while they were inside extinguishing remaining hot spots.


    http://www.usfa.fema.gov/application...eath_year=2004

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    Pittsburgh Church Recalls Fallen Firefighters

    JUDY LIN
    Associated Press Writer

    PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A day after a church fire killed two firefighters, injured dozens more and left a congregation without its spiritual home, the pastor promised his parishioners they would "rise out of the ashes.''

    The Rev. Dr. Joseph V. Winsett told more than 300 parishioners of Ebenezer Baptist Church who gathered Sunday at a nearby church that they must not dwell on the tragedy.

    "I'm not asking why the building was burned,'' Winsett said during a ceremony marked by singing and clapping. "I stopped asking questions of God, because you can't figure out God sometimes.''

    Firefighters Richard Stefanakis, 51, and Charles Brace, 55, both of Pittsburgh, died in Saturday's fire, according to the coroner. Twenty-six other firefighters and one public works employee were injured. Five firefighters remained hospitalized Sunday, two in serious condition.

    Parishioners said they were struggling with the loss of the church, which was founded in 1875 and has deep roots as the oldest black Baptist church in the city.

    Jeriel Stirkey, a 71-year-old deacon, was baptized there and recalled playing tag in the corners of the building as a boy.

    "I've been there all my life. It's my home,'' he said. "It's the only place I had in my life that they didn't tear down.''

    Firefighters thought they had the fire under control when the steeple collapsed. The debris fell into the building's basement, where both dead firefighters were found, Fire Chief Peter Micheli said.

    A board of inquiry will look into whether the city should take up additional safety measures, the chief said.

    Ebenezer has about 2,500 members, about 900 of whom were active, church officials said.

    William Monroe, 64, who was baptized and married in the church, believes the fire will strengthen the church community. "It might bring people closer together. Maybe more members will join,'' Monroe said.

    Officials plan to demolish the remains of the church early next week and remove enough debris to allow investigators to reach the electrical system in the basement. Public works director Guy Costa said high winds and an unstable back wall slowed that plan Sunday.


    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...4&sectionId=39

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    Crews Remove Rubble From Burned Pennsylvania Church


    JUDY LIN


    PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Crews removed rubble Monday from a historic black church to let investigators reach an electrical system at the base of the structure _ the suspected origin of a fire that destroyed the church and killed two firefighters.

    Authorities believe Saturday's blaze at Ebenezer Baptist Church was accidental, said Jim Tanda of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. All safety protocols were followed, both fire and union officials said.

    Firefighters thought the blaze was under control and set up fire hoses to douse hot spots in the basement, where the bodies of both firefighters were found.

    Both were crushed when the steeple of the historic church collapsed, and falling debris injured 21 other firefighters and a city employee. Five firefighters suffered burns; four people remained hospitalized Monday.

    Fire Chief Peter Micheli said there were no indications the building was unstable when firefighters entered since the roof had already collapsed.

    "This was normal procedure,'' he said.

    A board of inquiry will look into whether the city should take up additional safety measures, the chief said. Since 1995, only one city firefighter had died _ in 1999, of a heart attack.

    Funerals for master firefighter Richard A. Stefanakis, 51, and battalion chief Charles G. Brace, 55, are scheduled Thursday.

    "They were patriots of the fire service, teachers to the younger guys,'' union president Joe King said.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...8&sectionId=39

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    Thousands Remember Pittsburgh's Fallen Firefighters

    Story by The Pittsburgh Channel

    PITTSBURGH -- Firefighters from as far away as Canada and Hawaii assembled Thursday in Oakland to pay tribute to Pittsburgh's fallen heroes.

    A procession of hundreds of ladder trucks, command cars and ambulances left Heinz Field around 10 a.m. for a noon funeral Mass at St. Paul Cathedral for Battalion Chief Charles Brace and Firefighter Richard Stefanakis. The two men died Saturday in the Hill District when the bell tower of Ebenezer Baptist Church collapsed while they were fighting a fire.

    Daniel Brace, 22, talked about being given a used fire helmet by his father and proudly wearing it to kindergarten.

    "I can't think of a more noble way to pass, which is fitting because you are the most noble man I knew," Brace said. "I love you, Daddy. Goodbye for now."

    At least four bagpipe-and-drum units took part in the procession to and from the church, which drew several dozen civilian spectators in addition to the overflow crowd of firefighters and relatives.

    After the Mass, an honor guard fired a 21-gun salute and two emergency helicopters did a flyover as the funeral processions left for separate private burials.

    About 2,000 people crowded into the cathedral for Mass, which was led by Bishop Donald Wuerl. Several hundred more listened on loud speakers outside.

    Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll attended, as did Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Mayor Tom Murphy, who struggled with his composure while delivering one of the eulogies.

    "When the Steelers win a playoff, we celebrate as a family. When there's a tragedy, we mourn as a family," Murphy said. "Know today that the city of Pittsburgh mourns with you today as a family."

    Several speakers and a group of New York City firefighters seized on the theme in a biblical passage quoted during the Mass: "Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." New York firefighters signed a copy of an artist's rendering of an angel with that verse that was given to the families.

    Wuerl said Brace and Stefanakis were role models in a society where respect for life is waning and heroes are few.

    "But the lives and deaths of Charles and Richard hold up for us another vision of life," Wuerl said. "There's no such thing as a safe fire, but someone has to go (fight them) ... Charles and Rich are cut from that same cloth. They were called, and they went."

    "This ranks as one of the saddest days of my life," said city Fire Chief Peter Micheli, his voice breaking.

    "In today's society, we can't turn on the news without hearing of violence and destruction. We try hard to find role models - today we have role models," Micheli said.

    Brace, 55, will be buried at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Peters. He is survived by his wife, Jamie, and two sons, Charles and Daniel.

    Stefanakis, 51, will be buried at Calvary Cemetery in Hazelwood. He is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and two children, Crystal and Chad.

    Both men served in the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau for more than 30 years.

    Copyright 2004 by ThePittsburghChannel. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...1&sectionId=39

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    Hundreds Say Farewell To Fallen Pittsburgh Firefighters

    WPXI

    PITTSBURGH -- Thursday, firefighters from across the country will gather to honor Charles Brace and Richard Stefanakis. They were killed Saturday while battling a fire at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the Hill District.

    The procession of fire trucks, escorted by state police, will begin at 9:45 a.m. and be lined up at the cathedral by 10:30 a.m. The celebration of the mass by Bishop Donald Wuerl will be assisted in the liturgy by Local No. 1 of the firefighters' union. The mass begins at noon.

    During the mass, fire Chief Peter Micheli and union President Joe King will present an American flag flown over the Capitol on March 13, the day of the tragedy, to each family.

    Another procession of firefighters will begin at 11 a.m. at Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Oakland. The procession will end at St. Paul Cathedral.

    Members of the Pittsburgh Fire Department will lead the group with honor guards, bagpipers and firefighters taking part in the ceremony.

    Because of today's proceedings, there are road closures in Oakland. Fifth Avenue between Craig Street and Bellefield Avenue will be closed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    Parking will also be restricted. As a result, 1,000 spaces are available at Heinz Field. A shuttle begins running at 8:30 a.m.

    FUND INFORMATION: Donations can be sent to: The March 14 Firefighters Support Fund In care of PNC Bank Hill District Branch 1860 Centre Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15219

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...2&sectionId=39

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    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Fire Report Details Deadly Mistakes

    Courtesy of KDKA-TV

    Pittsburgh (KDKA) The final report into a fire and collapse at an historic Hill District Church that killed two firefighters won't be released until Friday; but KD Investigator Marty Griffin got a sneak peek at the report that reveals a number of mistakes -- that turned out to be deadly.

    Master firefighter Richard A. Stefanakis, 51, and battalion chief Charles G. Brace, 55, died on March 13th after the bell tower of the Ebenezer Baptist Church collapsed while they and others were inside the church dousing the hot spots.

    "Firefighters were placed in the front vestibule for just a matter of overhaul and mop up -- which is a standard operating procedure -- and the bell tower came down." -- Peter Micheli, Fire Chief (March 13, 2004)

    While investigators have yet to determine the exact cause and origin of the fire, the board of inquiry details several glaring misjudgments in the way firefighters fought the fire.

    According to the report, firefighters thought the bell tower that collapsed was solid stone -- when it was actually much weaker brick with a stone facade.

    The report also criticizes the decision to try and save the church's stained glass windows, which were covered in Plexiglas. According to the board, the failure to vent the fire by breaking windows caused the back draft that injured several firefighters.

    Finally the report points out in its most critical assessment that "command should know risk versus gain" when determining the value of fighting a fire versus the risk to firefighters -- implying that there was no good reason to be inside the church once the main fire was out.

    Days after her husband's death, Stephanie Stefanikis raised similar questions about why her husband was sent into the church while it was unstable. "Like 80-percent of that church was gone," Stefanikis told KDKA, " I don't understand why they were in the last 20-percent that was left. For what, you know? He may have been alive today -- Charlie and him. I just don't feel like they should have been there..."

    As for the report, Stefanikis says nothing about it surprised her.

    Late this afternoon, Pittsburgh Fire Chief Peter Micheli told KDKA he was upset that the information had been released early -- saying "I'm gonna find out who the [expletive] made that leak and there's gonna be a problem."

    The full report will be formally released at a news conference this Friday.


    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...0&sectionId=39

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    Church Where Two Pittsburgh Firefighters Were Killed Reopens Two Years Later

    Updated: 11-20-2006 06:38:51 AM

    Story by thepittsburghchannel.com

    March 13, 2004, was one of the worst days of their lives for members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the Hill District.

    Nov. 18, 2006, may be remembered as one of the best days.

    More than 32 months after the church was destroyed by fire, the community Saturday consecrated the new $7 million Ebenezer Baptist Church.

    Some members danced, some cried, most sang -- they all celebrated.

    "This is a very special day for the whole city because everyone is really a part of it in their celebrating. This is one of the newest historical events in the city," said Valerie Harris, a member of the church.

    "Strong winds may blow, but we got our hands in God's great big hands and everything is going to be all right," Harris added.

    For more than two years, members of the congregation were forced to find other places to worship. Saturday, it seems they all returned -- and brought friends and relatives with them.

    "It just shows what faith can do and what God can do," said Margaret Lojay Dunmore, one church member's sister. "I know some of the memories that were lost can never be regained. But you know what -- it is a very, very beautiful edifice and the spirit of the Lord is here."

    "It's a blessing to all of us. We've waited a long time for this day, and we're happy that it's finally come," said Aaron Walton, a member of the church.

    Two Pittsburgh firefighters died while fighting the fire. Charles Brace and Richard Stefanakis were killed when the church's bell tower collapsed.

    A memorial for the firefighters is inside the new church. Members will consecrate it on the first Sunday in December.


    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=46&id=52069

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    Fallen Firefighters Honored at Pittsburgh Church

    Updated: 12-03-2006 09:45:47 PM


    Story by thepittsburghchannel.com

    Two firefighters were honored in the newly rebuilt church they died trying to save.

    Charles Brace and Richard Stefanakis died in March 2004 when the Bell tower of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the Hill District, collapsed during a fire.
    The new $7 million church was consecrated a few weeks ago and included a room dedicated to the firefighters.

    The families of the firefighters, along with city officials and community leaders, gathered Sunday for a dedication ceremony.


    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=46&id=52302

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