Crews investigating blaze that killed S.D. firefighter

Fire chief: "He was a good person, good firefighter and a hardworking young man."


BRANDON, S.D. — Officials are investigating a fatal house fire that killed a volunteer firefighter and the homeowner.

Keloland.com reported that the house fire, which started around 10 p.m. Sunday, killed 47-year-old homeowner David Smith and 38-year-old Valley Springs (S.D.) volunteer firefighter Steven Ackerman. Ackerman was found dead in the basement of the home by his colleagues.

When firefighters arrived on scene, they learned that Smith was still inside the house. Firefighters got him out and an ambulance took him to a hospital, where he was later declared dead. The fire then got even worse and crews had to evacuate.

"We immediately called for an accountability check. We wanted to know everybody was out,” Brandon Fire Chief Gary Lembcke said. “We believed everybody was out, and then a few minutes later, a short time later, we noticed we were short one. So, we switched over to rescue efforts of one of own.”

Around 1:30 a.m. on Monday, firefighter Ackerman was found dead in the basement of the home.

"It got pretty somber, pretty fast," Valley Springs Fire Chief Don Johnson said. "We know now he was in the basement and possibly fell through the floor. We aren't dealing with normal circumstances. Fires are a vicious animal."

Once the home was stabilized, Ackerman's body was transferred into an ambulance. A procession was led by his fellow firefighters and other police and fire departments.

"He was a good person, good firefighter and a hardworking young man," Johnson said. "Always straight forward and got things done."

Ackerman is the 43rd firefighter to be killed in South Dakota since 1924. He is the 22nd volunteer firefighter to be killed in the line of duty, according to the South Dakota Firefighters Association.

Charlie Kludt, president of the South Dakota Firefighters Association, expressed his condolences for the Ackerman family and firefighters.

"Firefighters, not only from South Dakota, but across the nation, will be discussing this incident and the unfortunate circumstance in which firefighter Ackerman lost his life," Kludt said. "The risk taken to save the life of someone else in need is a challenge faced by career and volunteer responders, alike. We rely on our training and equipment to protect us as we face the dangers of the occupation."

The Department of Criminal Investigation, the State Fire Marshal and other agencies are investigating.

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