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n4fire-1 Officials on Tuesday stand at the scene of Sunday’s fatal fire as details slowly emerge. Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago said it was important to give grieving firefighters some time to heal.
Officials on Tuesday stand at the scene of Sunday’s fatal fire as details slowly emerge. Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago said it was important to give grieving firefighters some time to heal.
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Published: Tuesday, 1/28/2014 - Updated: 11 months ago

AUTOPSY REPORT

Firefighters died from bad burns, carbon monoxide

Friends recall pair’s pride of service, exuberance for life

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Machcinski, Dickman Machcinski, Dickman
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Local firefighters say one of the best parts of the job is emerging from a fire and seeing the work.

Stephen Machcinski loved that, said Keith Szenderski, a fellow firefighter and friend.

“We all love putting out a fire and then coming out,” Mr. Szenderski said. “Getting to talk about how things went. … I think that’s what he loved. Coming out and seeing how good a job you did.”

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Mr. Szenderski paused. “He always came out.”

On Sunday, Mr. Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31, Toledo firefighters, died after being inside a burning apartment building in North Toledo.

They were pulled from the two-story, six-unit building at 528 Magnolia St. and rushed to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead.

Tuesday, the Lucas County Coroner's Office released the findings from autopsies, which were performed on Monday, that showed the firefighters died of burns and exposure to carbon monoxide.

The two were “badly burned all over,” said Dr. Cynthia Beisser, a deputy county coroner. Routine toxicology tests, which could take weeks to come back, are pending.

Fire Chief Luis Santiago did not have any information about the ongoing investigation into the blaze, but said, “We’re going to really start going with a little bit more vigor.”

It was important, he said, to give the firefighters who were on the scene and inside the building on Sunday some time to recover before starting interviews.

Plans to memorialize Mr. Machcinski, a 15-year veteran of the department, and Mr. Dickman, who had fewer than five months of service with the department, on Thursday are under way, with thousands of people expected to flood downtown.

“We are truly expecting folks from literally all over the country and beyond and from Canada to attend and help us pay proper respects,” Chief Santiago said.

The Last Alarm Memorial Service will be held at the SeaGate Convention Centre from 7 to 9 p.m. Seating is limited to 5,000 people, although Chief Santiago said he expects “quite an overflow.” Families of both men will be in attendance, he said.

The memorial “will help tremendously,” he said. “A lot of our members haven’t seen things like this. It will be a great help to a lot of us that are feeling the pain and take our mind off a lot of things we’ve been thinking about over the last few days.”

A party to celebrate the election of Mayor D. Michael Collins was postponed so as to not take attention from the loss of the firefighters.

The “Collins Cares Celebration” had been set for Saturday at the SeaGate Convention Centre downtown. A new date has not been set.

Firefighters who worked with Mr. Machcinski and Mr. Dickman also have found comfort in remembering.

Mr. Machcinski and Jim Swartz, who went through the fire academy together, just had come off probation when their captain put the two in charge of a rescue vehicle. They were grocery-shopping for the station when a call came in deep inside their east-side district.

“I'm driving, he’s trying to get dressed, and he just gets this big grin and says, ‘Can you believe they’re paying us for this?’ ” Mr. Swartz said. “I think that’s the attitude he kept the entire 16 years.”

The firefighters — the rookies, the veterans, and even the retired guys — were like an extended family to Mr. Machcinski, Mr. Swartz said. Anyone who wanted to or had worn the badge was a brother or a sister.

On Monday, Mr. Swartz was approached by a retired firefighter who told a story about Mr. Machcinski buying him a beer at a bar when Mr. Machcinski learned that the retired man recently had lost a family member.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Mr. Swartz said.

He also was the kind of firefighter who wanted to stay on the daily grind, answering calls. Sitting behind a desk, off the streets, wouldn’t have suited him, his friends said.

“He loved his job. He took pride in his job. He was caring, you know? A hard worker,” Mr. Szenderski said.

Away from the job, Mr. Machcinski loved baseball, often going to Tigers games and nearly, if not all, Mud Hens home openers. He and his friends would meet at a bar once a week, talk shop, talk baseball, sometimes just talk.

“He was a good person to talk to,” Mr. Szenderski said. “I could tell him things I couldn’t talk to other people about, and I think he did the same with me.”

Mr. Machcinski saved his weekends for his family, devoting time to his niece and nephew.

For Mr. Dickman, being a big-city firefighter was all he wanted.

He spent 10 years with the Perkins Township Fire Department but wanted to fight more fires, go on more runs.

He certainly had the energy for it, said former colleagues Bryan Brace and Lt. Mike Pflieger, both firefighters in Perkins Township.

“He was always going 100 miles per hour in five different directions,” Lieutenant Pflieger said. “ … He loved the job. He absolutely loved firefighting.”

On the job, Mr. Dickman, who went by Jamie, carried in a clear pocket of his reflective vest a photo of his great grandfather, one of the original Perkins Township firefighters, Mr. Brace said.

“He was very proud of that,” he said.

In the firehouse, the crews shared that same familial bond, which includes the occasional prank.

Mr. Brace, Mr. Dickman, and a third firefighter were at their Station 3 one day, with the third lying on a rolling board under an ambulance.

Mr. Brace, in on the shenanigans, called over Mr. Dickman. The third firefighter grabbed Mr. Dickman's leg, sending Mr. Dickman screaming.

Somewhere along the line, it became Mr. Dickman’s thing to walk up to fellow firefighters and say: “Bang, bang, bro.”

He had a pair of leather gloves and one day at the station, he took a permanent marker and wrote ‘bang’ across the knuckles of each.

“Those are the things that drove you crazy, but that’s Jamie,” Lieutenant Pflieger said.

“His little quirks are what we miss so much,” Mr. Brace said.

The only thing Mr. Dickman loved more than work, was his family.

He leaves behind a wife, also Jamie, a 3-year-old daughter, and a 1-month-old son.

“He loved his family and he loved his job,” the lieutenant said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.



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