Firefighter killed in South Chicago warehouse blaze

CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - A 42-year-old firefighter was killed battling a blaze in a vacant warehouse early Monday in the South Chicago neighborhood, fire officials said.

Firefighters responded to the fire about 2:40 a.m. at the three-story warehouse in the 9200 block of South Baltimore, according to Chicago Police. The building was under construction and an emergency alert was issued due to holes in the floor.

Daniel Capuano, a 15-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department assigned to Tower Ladder 34, was searching through heavy smoke on the second floor when he fell down an elevator shaft to the basement, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago told reporters. A “mayday” call was sent out at 2:56 a.m., signaling a firefighter was in distress.

“They were able to remove him quickly and get him on the ambulance,” Santiago said. Capuano had a partner “right next to him” when he fell.

Capuano was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead at 4:25 a.m., Santiago said. The Cook County medical examiner’s office could not immediately confirm the fatality.

“We hope you can keep the Capuano family in your prayers and the department members who worked with him. This is devastating to the family,” Santiago said, adding that Capuano leaves behind a wife and three children.

“We’ll get our heads together and add more later on,” he said. “Very hard as a department, you know how we are close in fire departments, so we’ll make our way through it.”

Later Monday, at his firehouse at 79th & South Chicago Avenue, purple and black bunting was draped from the roof over red garage doors, and the flags of the city of Chicago and its Fire Department fluttered at half-staff.

Throughout the day, firefighters — and family members of firefighters — drove over to the station to pay respects, solemnly milling in and out, some visibly shaken.

Several members of his station house family were too upset to talk.

“Now’s not a good time,” said a couple of them who were standing just inside the firehouse doors.

Visiting brethren, however, described him as a dedicated firefighter and family man, and mourned for his wife and three children.

“He was a great guy and a great dad, you know? And a very dedicated fireman. You can pretty much sum it up right there, with Dan,” said South Side firefighter Mike O’Connell. “It’s a very sad day.”

The blaze was struck out by 3:55 a.m., fire officials said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“Chicago has lost one of its bravest in Dan Capuano,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “As a 15-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, Dan spent his career putting the safety of others ahead of his own. He made the ultimate sacrifice so Chicago’s residents could be safe. For that, there are no words that can truly express our sorrow for his loss nor our gratitude for his service and sacrifice to the City of Chicago. The thoughts and prayers of a grateful city are with Dan, his family, and his fellow firefighters at this difficult time.”

One of the firefighters who stopped by Capuano’s fire station felt the family’s pain even more acutely. Kevin McGovern, also stationed on the South Side, lost his own firefighter father in the line of duty. He was at the fire early Monday.

“I myself, as a firefighter who lost my father, I feel their grief. I understand what the kids are going through, what the family’s going through,” said McGovern. “And I feel sorry for them — deeply, deeply sorry for them. It’s a shock and a tragedy. God rest his soul, and Godspeed to his family.”

In a statement posted on the Website of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, union president Thomas Ryan said a fund has been set up for the family. Anyone wishing to donate can go here.

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