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Church Roof Collapse Kills Two Firefighters

March 14, 2004|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Firefighters who thought they had a church fire under control were trapped when the building's roof collapsed Saturday. Two firefighters were killed and 29 were injured, five seriously.

There had been no sign of structural problems at Ebenezer Baptist Church before its steeple toppled as firefighters doused hot spots, Fire Chief Peter Micheli said.

The steeple crashed into the 131-year-old church's basement, where both dead firefighters were found, Micheli said. Firefighters at the scene removed their helmets and turned off warning lights on their vehicles in tribute as each body was removed. The dead were Richard A. Stefanakis, 51, and Charles G. Brace, 55, both of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Coroner's Office said. Brace was a battalion chief. Autopsies were scheduled for today.

Five firefighters suffered serious or critical head and chest injuries, said city Operations Director Bob Kennedy. One underwent surgery, and the other four were hospitalized, Kennedy said.

The cause of the blaze appeared to an electrical fire in the basement "that jumped up the walls and spread rapidly," Kennedy said.

The senior pastor of the church, the Rev. J. Van Alfred Winsett, told Pittsburgh television stations that the congregation was preparing for a breakfast when the fire started.

Micheli said he was at a loss about what to say to the victims' families.

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