Friday, March 09, 2001

A fearful reality hits home again

Firefighter badly injured searching empty home

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIAMI TOWNSHIP — For the second time in as many days, township firefighters came face-to-face Thursday with one of the hazards of their jobs.

        Still reeling from Tuesday's fire that took the lives of two young brothers, firefighters in this western Hamilton County community were stunned into silence Thursday afternoon as they watched one of their own being pulled from a burning house.

[photo] Firefighter/paramedic Bill Ellison is rushed to an AirCare helicopter Thursday afternoon after falling through the floor of a burning home
(Glenn Hartong photos)
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        Firefighter Bill Ellison, who fell about 10 feet through the first floor and into the basement of a burning house at 8129 Jordan Road, suffered burns to more than 50 percent of his body - with the most severe on his arms, hands and back, authorities said.

        He was in critical condition Thursday night at University Hospital, where he was flown by AirCare helicopter.

        He was one of at least 10 firefighters inside the burning home, searching for victims, when the floor gave way.

        Fire officials said it took minutes “that felt like hours” to rescue him. He was unconscious when fire personnel located him using a thermal-imaging camera.

        In their efforts to rescue their downed comrade, two other firefighters, Michael Kerns and Brian Kegley, suffered minor injuries. They were treated and released from Mercy Franciscan-Western Hills.

        Firefighters were called to the home shortly after 1 p.m. It was engulfed in flames and soon became a three-alarm fire. The cause is under investigation.

[photo] A Miami Township firefighter cries after helping rescue Mr. Ellison.
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        The 2,000-square-foot home, valued at more than $216,000 according to Hamilton County property records, was gutted. Firefighters were able to salvage family pictures but little else. The owners, according to the Hamilton County auditor, are Louis and Tina Bruemmer. They were not home at the time of the fire.

        Neighbors said flames could be seen shooting more than 25 feet into the air, while smoke could be seen from miles away.

        The house sits about a half-mile from Jordan Road, secluded in a wooded area of ponds and small wooden bridges.

        Mr. Ellison, a part-time firefighter/paramedic with the Miami Township department, also works as a full-time firefighter/paramedic for Anderson Township.

        Prior to his fall, firefighters at the scene had been focused and aggressive. But after Mr. Ellison emerged from the blaze on a gurney, the scene became solemn.

        Though they continued to fight the blaze, many firefighters gathered on the lawn, heads bowed, talking quietly among themselves. Others sat on their knees, heads in their hands.

        Township firefighters suffered an emotional week.

        Though they had arrived in less than 60 seconds to a burning mobile home on East River Road on Tuesday, firefighters could not save Richard “Ricky” Joyce Jr., 12, and his brother Zachary, 9. The pair had been trapped inside.

        “I'll be second-guessing myself for weeks,” Miami Township Assistant Fire Chief Steve Ober said of the two fires. “I feel like crap.”

        At Thursday's fire scene, firefighters were searching for occupants of the home because neighbors said that a 55-year-old resident may have been inside. But it was later determined that the house was empty.

        “If we had known the house was empty, we would have never had to do a search and rescue,” Assistant Chief Ober said.

        “This was the same kind of call as the (Tuesday) fire,” he said. “I just have a knot in my stomach. Everybody is beating themselves up over this.”

        He said that all 45 of Miami Township's full- and part-time firefighters have been affected by the two incidents.

        Grief and trauma counselors — firefighters themselves — were at the scene Thursday to help those firefighters affected by what some called “the week from hell.”

        Besides Miami Township, fire personnel from Cheviot, Colerain Township, Cleves, Sharonville, Woodlawn, Delhi Township and Whitewater Township responded to Thursday's blaze.

        In order to pump water to the fire, firefighters linked 2,000 feet of hose from the road to the house.

       Photographer Glenn Hartong and reporters Michael D. Clark and Walt Schaefer contributed to this report.


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