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Report Finds Department Failings In Death Of Chicago Firefighter

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Herbert "Herbie" Johnson, covered in soot, talks with reporters at a 2006 fire scene. (CBS)

Herbert “Herbie” Johnson, covered in soot, talks with reporters at a 2006 fire scene. (CBS)

CHICAGO (AP) — A report by federal investigators has concluded that poor communication contributed to the death of a veteran Chicago firefighter last year.

Capt. Herbert Johnson, 54, suffered burns and died of inhalation injuries while helping battle a fire at a two-flat apartment house on the South Side in November 2012. Paramedics performed CPR on the father of three as they carried him out of the home but he died at a hospital.

The review was conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.

The contributing factors it cited included poor communication between personnel on the ground and a lack of proper personal protective equipment.

The report, released in September, says the firefighter-paramedic who came to Johnson’s aid did not have a radio and had to shout “mayday” to other personnel inside the building for help.

Spokesman Larry Langford said Tuesday that the Fire Department is reviewing the report’s recommendations but takes issue with some conclusions, including the notion that having a radio would have helped Johnson’s colleague summon help faster.

“There were other firefighters very nearby, in fact right down the hall,” Langford said. “… The first thing you are going to do is probably yell anyway, because the human instinct — which is usually right — is that it’s faster to yell to the guy who’s 15-20 feet down the hall than to pick up a radio.”

He said it took about 10 seconds for another squad member to come to his aid.

Langford also said that Johnson had all his protective gear with him when he went in, and that he may have removed his gloves while reaching for his radio. Other gear was removed by those carrying him out of the house, and Johnson likely lost his breathing apparatus facepiece while running and hitting a wall or doorjamb, Langford said.

The report also criticized the department for another communication lapse in which Johnson failed to acknowledge hearing the plan of attack over his radio. It said the commander should have made certain everyone understood.

“We don’t know if he heard the message, or just didn’t answer, or was already injured when the message came over,” Langford said.

CBS 2’s Pam Jones spoke with Herbert Johnson’s brother, Ted.

“There is always questions there because we have face pieces with harnesses with air on it. Even in the reports, I know my brother is going to go in with one and it is just a question of where was it?”

Johnson’s brother says he’s concerned about several recommendations in the report – including those for effective staffing levels – he says riding short a couple of crew members is too common.

Fire department spokesperson Larry Langford says the department is reviewing the report and that, “We can always learn from both our triumphs and our tragedies.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)