When firefighters approached the two-story brick warehouse early Monday morning, they did not know the building's elevator shaft was an unprotected abyss, part of ongoing construction at the site. The owners of the structure at 9213 S. Baltimore Ave. did not have proper permits for the work, the city's building department says, and a complete removal of the building's elevator was underway without authorization.
Unable to see the void through thick smoke and the glow of flames, firefighter Daniel Capuano, 42, fell down the elevator shaft as he searched with fellow firefighters for people and the source of the blaze, fire officials said. Capuano, a 15-year veteran of the department, was rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead less than two hours later.
"It's maddening. It's maddening. It didn't have to happen this way," Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. He said there was nothing around the open shaft to alert firefighters that a hazard was present.
"There was no partition, marker or barrier to keep someone from going in the hole or knowing they were approaching the hole. That is wrong," Langford said. "If there was a rope (marking the opening) the firefighter would have touched that rope and froze."