Firefighter LODDs in Chicago Building Collapse Identified

Two Chicago firefighters were killed Wednesday morning and 19 were hurt when a roof and wall collapsed while they were fighting a fire in an abandoned, one-story, brick former laundry building on East 75th Street.

The two firefighters were identified as Edward Stringer, a 12-year veteran, and Cory Ankum, a member of the department for less than two years.

Two other firefighters were trapped inside the former Sing Way Laundry at 1744 E. 75th, near South Shore High School, before being pulled to safety and taken to hospitals.

Firefighters including Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff swarmed the scene, furiously digging through rubble to find the missing firefighters. When the missing were located, they were quickly carried out of the building, with firefighters clearing a path.

Ankum died at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, while Stringer died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, fire department spokesman Larry Langford said.

Dozens of firefighters lined the exit at Christ Medical Center’s emergency room to salute as the body of Ankum, 34, was brought out to be taken to the morgue.

Fighting back tears, Maurice Matthews said his brother, firefighter Steven Ellerson, was injured trying to save Ankum.

“He almost died trying to save his partner,” Matthews said.

Matthews said his brother was in the building when the roof collapsed. He heard Ankum crying for help and came to his assistance, removing Ankum’s mask and unsuccessfully attempting to pull him free, Matthews said.

Eventually Ellerson’s colleagues dragged Ellerson to safety, but not before his eyesight was damaged, Matthews said.

“He’s distraught that he couldn’t save’’Ankum, Matthews said. “The brotherhood and camaraderie these firefighters share is incredible.”

Ankum’s wife is Mayor Daley’s personal secretary. Daley, who is in New York, planned to end his trip early and return to the city Wednesday night following the tragedy.

“I knew Cory Ankum and his family and I share in their loss today,’’ Daley said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. “. . . The deaths of Firefighters Stringer and Ankum are both a sad reminder of how much gratitude we owe our first responders and a tragedy for all Chicagoans.’’

Ankum was a former Chicago cop who joined the Chicago Fire Department’s Engine 72 a year ago and was described as a favorite at the firehouse at 79th and South Chicago.

The father of three children under 12 years old — including a 1 year old — was “first and foremost, a devoted family man,” said his brother, Gerald Glover, also a firefighter, who worked a different shift at the same firehouse.

The older brother said Ankum switched careers to join him in the fire department because he felt “police officers weren’t getting respect any more.”

Known for his excellent cooking and his jokes, Ankum was quick to help out neighbors on his block, and he knew the dangers of his job, his brother said.

“He was an outstanding young man that took care of his kids and family,” he said.

“He ran in that building — he didn’t know what was happening, but he was doing his job,” his brother said.

As for Stringer, one fire department district commander said he will be remembered for his “bravery’’ and “valor.’’

The commander, who didn’t want to be identified, was walking out of the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office Wednesday carrying a Chicago flag that had been used to drape the remains of both firefighters and a red plastic bag filled with Stringer’s clothing.

“We lost a friend, we lost a brother,’’ he said of Stringer, whose mother is a retired city worker. Stringer “would jump in’’ whenever needed. He also had a “quick wit.’’

Both firefighters were “excellent men, excellent firefighters, excellent parents, excellent friends,’’ the district commander said.

“We are all devastated. It’s a loss, a loss around the holidays,’’ he said.

Langford said all of the surviving firefighters were “stable” — without life-threatening injuries.

Nearly 100 firefighters responded to the “Mayday” call that was sounded to alert the department that firefighters were trapped.

Among them was Hoff, a third-generation Chicago firefighter whose own father died years ago in the line of duty.

“They were removed from different corners of the building,” Hoff, his face marked with soot, said of those who had to be pulled out.

Of the rescue efforts, Hoff said, “They worked hard, got them out fast.”

The fire Wednesday came on the 100th anniversary of the Union Stock Yards fire, which killed 21 Chicago firefighters. That was the single greatest loss of big-city firefighters ever in the United States before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The three-alarm fire started just before 7 a.m..

Robert Smart, who owns Smart Bros. Car Wash next door to the former laundry, said squatters regularly slept in the abandoned building. He said he’s called police about the squatters before and that each time a security fence at the rear of the property was repaired, but the squatters cut a new hole in it and returned.

Four of the injured firefighters were sent to University of Chicago Hospitals. As of 12:40 p.m., one had been released. The remaining three were to be released soon, with all suffering from cuts and bruises, a hospital official said.

Word of the deadly fire Wednesday reached a group of retired firefighters as they marked the anniversary of the Stock Yards fire with a gathering at the firefighters monument in the small park at Exchange and Peoria. The names of the firefighters who died a century ago were being read, a bell tolling for each one, said retired firefighter Bill Cosgrove, who helped raised the money to create the memorial.

“It was beyond disbelief,” Cosgrove, who lives in Tinley Park, said of the timing of Wednesday’s fire. “It broke most of the firemen down when we found out. We have a very sad day today.”

Chicago Sun Times

Tina Sfondeles, Fran Spielman, Maudlyne Ihejirika, Casey Toner, Lauren FitzPatrick

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