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REMEMBERING THE KEOKUK, IOWA-THE LOSS OF 3 FIREFIGHTERS-AND 3 CHILDREN IN A DUPLEX FIRE

     

Friday, December 3, 2010 At 0824 Hours on Wednesday, December 22, 1999, a fire was reported in a multifamily dwelling in Keokuk, Iowa. Several neighbors phoned the Keokuk 911 center to report smoke coming from a residence, and that a woman was outside screaming that there were children trapped inside.

Assistant Fire Chief Dave McNally, 48, Firefighter Jason Bitting, 29, and Firefighter Nate Tuck, 39 were killed while attempting the rescue of 3 trapped kids in that fire-who also perished. The 3 Firefighters left 8 kids of their own behind. The Firefighters died when a flashover occurred while the 3 were doing their search. The fire started in the kitchen of an old wooden two-story b/f home that had been converted into apartments. Staffing is a major issue in Keokuk, and that morning, 4 of the 5 total (+ the Chief) on duty firefighters arrived on scene with heavy smoke showing, and upon hearing the mother screaming that her children were trapped inside, they immediately and understandably went in after them.When "Mom" screams that her kids are inside-we go in.

The 3 were inside, (the Asst Chief and 2 FF/pump operators) a Lt. was on the hydrant-couldn't see the building and one Firefighter was on side "A"... starting to pack up, to back the interior members up. The Chief made the terribly difficult decision to leave the scene for 3 minutes to personally transport a non-breathing rescued child--there were no other resources available... none. The hospital was a minute away. When he returned, the flashover had already occurred with only the Lt. and the one Firefighter left outside. A/C Dave McNally, FF Jason Bitting, and FF Nate Tuck perished in that duplex. R.I.P.

There are several excellent reports out on the fire:
HERE is the NIOSH report: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200004.html  
HERE is the NFPA report: http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/Keokuk.PDF  
KFD Link: http://www.cityofkeokuk.org/kfd.html  

One of the best quotes I have ever heard came from KFD's Chief Mark Wessell. Mark is a good friend who has shown true leadership in taking the KFD forward-I don't know anyone who doesn't agree with that. Since that fire, Mark and I have become pretty close and I am continually in awe over how he has made it clear that his FD will (and has) change. Mark makes it clear that as horrible as this was-he will do whatever he has to, to make sure it never happens again. To all of us, he made a statement that sums it up... "Always remember that we as firefighters are there to help people with a problem, while also doing ALL that we can to never become PART of that problem"

The above information-and plenty from many other resources and websites as well-provides each of us with an opportunity to share:
-so younger Firefighters understand our history.
-so we all are reminded of the losses.
-so we learn from the lessons learned.
-and so we can honor the WFD and KFD members who gave their lives in the Line of Duty.
 

 Photo courtesy of Cindy Iutzi, Daily
      Gate City, Iowa

 


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