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updated: 12/4/2013 8:03 AM

Report: Failings in death of Chicago firefighter

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Associated Press

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.

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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 whose 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.

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