Probe: Denver Fire knew of roof problems before firefighter's death

A firefighter fell through a rooftop skylight and suffered a close call in 2012, three years before the same happened to firefighter John Whelan


DENVER — An investigation has found that Denver Fire Department officials knew of dangerous roof problems three years before a firefighter's death.

CBS Denver reported that a firefighter fell through a rooftop skylight and suffered a close call in 2012, which was three years before the same happened to firefighter John Whelan in June.

Whelan stepped through a fiberglass skylight during a minor dumpster fire and fell 25 feet. He died three weeks later, leaving behind a wife and son.

The information about the 2012 incident was not widely shared with department members.

Lt. Joseph Duran, a firefighter who responded to a fire at an auto salvage warehouse, stepped onto a fiberglass skylight panel and fell through on May 20, 2012.

"Lt. Duran fell through the opening. He was able to catch himself on the roof decking, preventing a 25-foot fall to the floor of the building," Assistant Fire Chief Dave McGrail said.

Other firefighters rescued Lt. Duran, who was not injured.

In McGrail’s summary of the incident, he wrote that he would "follow up on this with Safety and Training Division to get information out about this building and the close call incident," according to the report.

But fire department commanders, including Chief Eric Tade, said that crucial information was never widely shared. Tade said he heard nothing of the 2012 case until after the death of firefighter Whelan.

"Generally any time a safety concern comes up we would expect someone to highlight it and engage in appropriate training," Chief Tade said.

Following the death of Whelan, the department transferred McGrail to a training facility at Denver International Airport. The department said the move had nothing to do with the Whelan incident, but was a reassignment based on promotions and retirements. Since then, McGrail has again been transferred to Denver's dispatch center.

The department is now investigating why the close call was never shared department-wide. NIOSH is still investigating Whelan's death.

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