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Unlocked Elevator Door Pivotal As Firefighter Line Of Duty Death Investigation Continues

City of Cincinnati

A preliminary report is out detailing the timeline of events surrounding a fire in March that claimed the life of Cincinnati Fire Apparatus Operator Daryl Gordon. The investigation continues but one thing is clear: the biggest question is why wasn't the door to the elevator shaft into which Gordon fell locked?

The timeline in the report shows the fire at 6020 Dahlgren Ave in Madisonville was reported at 5:31 a.m. on March 26, 2015.

  • The first units on the scene arrived at 5:38 a.m.
  • FAO Gordon arrived with Heavy Response unit 14 (HR-14) at 6:04 a.m.
  • HR-14 members begin searching apartments on the fifth floor and mark the unlocked fifth floor elevator door "Do Not Enter Open Shaft" at 6:10 a.m.
  • FAO Gordon falls down the elevator shaft at 6:12 a.m.
  • Crews hear Gordon's low pressure alarm bell ringing and find his helmet in the elevator shaft at 6:22 a.m.
  • Gordon is extricated by 6:36 a.m.
  • CPR is initiated and he's transported to University Hospital where he's pronounced dead at 7:08 a.m.

The last recorded interaction someone had with Gordon occurred near a stairwell from the fourth floor.
The report reads:

While on the 4th/5th floor stairwell landing, L-32 FF #1 saw FAO Gordon above him at the fifth floor door.

FAO Gordon asked him “Are you HR-14?”
L-32 FF#1 responded “No, I’m with Ladder 32. Who are you?”
FAO Gordon replied “I’m Daryl Gordon." 

After this verbal exchange, FAO Gordon turned around and headed back to the fifth floor hallway as L-32 FF#1 continued down the stairs with the two occupants from apt. 58

Credit Provided / City of Cincinnati
City of Cincinnati
This image shows a hallway at 6020 Dahlgren, post fire.

When Gordon's unit arrived on the scene, it was directed to begin searching for victims on the fifth floor. Several crew members discovered the elevator door opened into an empty shaft. The car was later determined to be located near the second floor. The crews used a marker to write on the door "Do Not Enter Open Shaft." While the message is clearly visible in pictures taken after the incident, Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dadosky says that wouldn't have been the case during the fire.

"There was no daylight that morning," Dadosky said during a media briefing Friday. "It was a foggy, misty morning so everything was packed down. Ventilation was horrible on that floor even that many minutes into the fire. You still had the fire below off-gassing and filling up the floors above it. So the visibility conditions were very poor so it stands to reason that that message could have easily been missed by anyone who was beginning to do an aggressive interior search."

Dadosky says the only thing that would have been on Gordon's mind would be looking for trapped occupants.

According to fire officials, crews attempted to send a radio message about the unlocked door but radio traffic was so high during the fire that the message wasn't transmitted. Dadosky says there was nothing wrong with the radio equipment.

The Elevator Shaft Door

Credit Provided / City of Cincinnati
City of Cincinnati
Crews marked the door with a warning but conditions were so poor, officials say Gordon could easily have missed the message.

Dadosky doesn't know why the door to the elevator shaft wasn't locked. It's unclear whether the lock was non-functioning before the fire or if it failed during the fire.The door isn't the typical sliding kind many people are used to seeing. Instead it looks more like a janitor's closet. It is white and hinged to swing outward.

"The door is high on the radar," says Dadosky. "But we're not ready to make any conclusions." 

Friday's report is just preliminary. The investigation will continue. Fire Chief Richard Braun says the department will use the report to assess its operating procedures, policies, training and equipment. He says that's how you honor Gordon and others who've died in the line of duty.

"The best way to honor them is... to do the investigations as we're doing now, to do our due diligence to change our policies if any need changed, to look at how we do business and move forward from this and build on the sacrifices that they have given."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.