Chicago fire investigator shot on the job

By Maureen O'Donnell
The Chicago Sun Times

CHICAGO — Donald Cox was investigating the apparent firebombing of a Southeast Side home Sunday when he was struck by a bullet below his left ribs — becoming the first Chicago firefighter believed to be shot in the line of duty in about 40 years.

Cox, 45, who was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition, was upgraded to serious but stable condition Sunday evening, said Fire Department spokeswoman Eve Rodriguez.

The shooting happened about 4:36 a.m. in the 2900 block of East 80th Place. A Fire Department source said the area has been rocked by gang violence and that Cox may have been a victim of a shooter who mistook him for someone else.

Officials said Cox was probing the apparent tossing of a "Molotov cocktail" at a home an hour earlier. "I've been told this [firebombing] was retaliation" for a prior incident in the area — possibly another firebombing, the source said.

Cox wore coveralls from the Office of Fire Investigation (OFI). The back of the coveralls are marked "OFI" — but someone seeing him from the front might not have realized he was a firefighter, the source said.

Cox, who was struck once, was able to radio in that he was shot, said Fire Commissioner Ray Orozco. Fire veterans think it's the first shooting of a city firefighter since about 1968, Orozco said.

The shooting means a change in policy. Arson investigators usually work by themselves, but in the future, "There's going to be two arson investigators per car,'' Orozco said.

Orozco, who visited Cox twice Sunday, said he was heartened that Cox was speaking and conscious.

Cox is an 18-year department veteran who has been with OFI three years. Previously, he worked in the firehouse at 548 W. Division. Orozco called him a "good man, good family man.'' He lives in the Ashburn neighborhood and has two daughters, 14 and 8. He and his wife, Neisha, are well-liked. "He would come to your rescue for anything,'' said neighbor Emmett Patterson

Brenda Dean, 46, lives in the home that the firebomb bounced off before burning out in the alley. "For a month, it's been shooting over here every day," she said. "It's not only a gang war, it's like a real war.''

Copyright 2008, The Chicago Sun Times

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