posttrib
HISTORIC 
Weather Updates

3 Gary firefighters injured in blaze

Maps

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



GARY — Three firefighters suffered injuries when the top-floor ceiling of a three-story burning building collapsed on them late Tuesday afternoon.

Capt. Malcolm Maxwell, Lt. Frank Edmond and Engineer Jesse Shabazz were treated at Methodist Hospitals Northlake campus for non-life-threatening injuries after fellow firefighters carried them out of a third-floor window onto a ladder truck.

“Our guys are all OK,” Battalion Chief Robert Groszewski said about 8 p.m. “I’m on my way to pick them up.”

Groszewski said he didn’t know yet if the men would be released back to their 24-hour shift duty or be taken home.

There were no other known injuries, Groszewski said at the scene.

“I want you to write these guys a commendation,” Gary Fire Chief Donald Williamson had told Groszewski at the scene at the southwest corner of 21st Avenue and Washington Street. The fire broke out about 5 p.m.

Wiliamson referred all questions to Groszewski, who said about 20 firefighters responded to the blaze at the site of the former Campbell Friendship House.

Groszewski said it appeared that the fire may have started in a third-floor stairwell, but added that the cause was still under investigation.

The third floor was destroyed but the first and second floors sustained only water and smoke damage, Groszewski said, estimating damages at about $20,000.

Marcus Boyd, who lived on the second floor, said he was the only occupant of the building.

“If the fire didn’t start in my room then somebody started it. There’s nobody else up there,” said Boyd, who waited across the street for firefighters to let him inside his apartment.

“Everything I have is in there,” said Boyd, who said someone from Studio 21 Web Design, also on the building’s second floor, had texted him at work about the fire.

Only a handful of businesses occupied the first floor, including a phone business, a convenience store, a CD shop and a gym, Boyd said.

Standing in the street, a weary looking Groszewski, fire helmet under his arm, his face smudged with soot, said the lack of fire personnel made it harder and harder to fight fires effectively.

“This is crazy,” Groszewski said. “We’re way short with laid off people. This is the third fire today. We’re getting worn out. Something’s gotta give.”

Budget cuts resulted in laying off 35 firefighters at the first of the year.

“We’ve got 200,” Groszewski said. “At one time we had 325. We’re 10 to 12 guys a shift short.”

In December, then Chief Jeff Ward said staffing cuts did not affect the department’s ability to protect the city, but Firefighters Local 359 President Raynard Robinson had compared the state of fire protection to Russian roulette, saying the need for firefighters, “to hustle to an emergency (has) left areas briefly unprotected.”

Only seven of the department’s 14 stations remain open, Groszewski said Tuesday.

“Our fire trucks are coming from farther away,” he said.

Contact Diane Krieger Spivak at 648-3076.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.