Cincinnati fire chief investigating fatal blaze response

Several nearby units were browned out

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Fire Chief Richard Braun is expected to release on Wednesday a second-by-second timeline on the department's response to a fatal fire on Digby Avenue in University Heights on New Year's Day.

The reason for the intense scrutiny is the fact that half the closest apparatus designated for the one-alarm complement was browned out that day and out of service.

That meant other engine companies and ladder trucks had to respond from farther away to battle the blaze, which investigators said began with a space heater placed too close to a blanket.

The question is whether that had any impact on the victims found on the home's third floor.

Chad Kohls, 21, of Centerville, Ohio, died from his injuries on Monday. Ellen Garner, 20, of Tipp City, Ohio, remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Kohl's father, Greg, praised firefighter efforts, since the first units were on the scene in four-and-a-half minutes.  

In fact, he said he was told a truck on another run was less than a mile away when the fire run to Digby Avenue was dispatched.

The one-alarm complement consisted of Engine 34, located at Clifton and Ludlow Avenues in Clifton, half a mile away, Engine 19 and Truck 19 housed on Short Vine in Corryville and Truck 21, located in South Fairmount.

Trucks 19 and 21 were browned out along with three other pieces of apparatus that day because budgets and retirements have reduced the number of firefighters available from an authorized strength of 841 to 756.

That means crews from Northside, Avondale and Camp Washington were called to the scene to assist.

The staffing situation should be eased in the coming months because a new class of 40 recruits is scheduled to graduate from training at the end of March.

A second 40-member recruit class could start in late spring or early summer. Both are being funded by federal SAFER grants.

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