Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Burned firefighter dies after two-week struggle

Bill Ellison fell into basement of burning house

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nearly two weeks after suffering critical injuries while fighting a Miami Township house fire, firefighter Bill Ellison died late Tuesday.

        “The announcement was made at about 9 p.m.,” said Miami Township (Hamilton County) Assistant Fire Chief Harry Hinson.

        A large contingent of firefighters, family and friends had been gathering at University Hospital since March 8, when Mr. Ellison was brought in with severe burns over more than half of his body.

        He had fallen about 10 feet through the first floor and into the basement of a burning house on Jordan Road as firefighters conducted a search for a person thought to be trapped. It later turned out that no one was in the house.

        Knocked unconscious, Mr. Ellison suffered burns on his arms, hands and back.

        Mr. Ellison, 38, was a full-time Anderson Township firefighter since 1997 and a part-time firefighter for Miami Township for five years.

        Assistant Chief Hinson said firefighters were trickling into the Miami Township station Tuesday night in an effort to make sense of the tragedy.

        He said crisis counselors were at the station Tuesday night and that the only recourse they had was to “sit and talk.”

        Anderson Township Fire Chief Dan Esslinger said brain function tests performed earlier Tuesday on Mr. Ellison did not go well.

        “He was gradually improving, and all of a sudden (he) took a turn for the worse,” he said. “It's sort of like he was trying to let us down easy. Everybody's hopes were up. He kept improving, giving us a glimmer of hope.”

        The chief said he talked with his on-duty firefighters Tuesday evening.

        “We've checked around all the stations tonight to make sure everybody's OK,” Chief Esslinger said. “They say they are.”

[photo] The Ellison family, Bill, Victoria, Maryssa and Michaela
(Family photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mr. Ellison and his wife, Victoria, of Union Township, Clermont County, have two daughters, Maryssa, 8, and Michaela, 4.

        Anderson Township Firefighters Union President Bill Pillett read a statement on behalf of Mr. Ellison's family:

        “It is with my deepest regret and honor that I must tell you that as a result of the severity of Bill's injuries — while fighting all the way — Bill was unable to overcome those injuries.

        “Tonight William “Doc” Ellison III died.

        “Your prayers and support for the family have been overwhelming and greatly appreciated. While the road ahead of us will be difficult, God's help and the support of each other will guide us through.”

        Mr. Pillett said that all fund raisers for Mr. Ellison would be continued and that the proceeds would go to help his survivors. A fund has been set up through Fifth Third Bank and contributions can be made at any Fifth Third branch in his name.

        In Cincinnati, firefighters kept a vigil at the hospital. In Kentucky, donations were collected at Turfway Park's Fire Fighter Day. Across the Tristate, blood drives and a bank fund were set up, and a fish fry last week in Newtown attracted more than 5,000 people who wanted to express their support and gratitude.

        According to officials with the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office in Columbus, the last time a firefighter died while on duty in Greater Cincinnati was in 1994, when Lt. Walter Wade of the Miami Township Fire Department in Hamilton County died from a heart attack while he fought a house fire in Whitewater Township.

        Matt Mullins, state fire marshal spokesman, said there have been 20 fire-related firefighter deaths in Ohio since 1987, when the office began keeping such records.
       David Eck and Michael D. Clark of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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