Ill. fire captain escapes basement fire on broken leg

Belleville FD Capt. Jason Unverzagt was able to climb up the basement stairs under his own power


Mike Koziatek
Belleville News-Democrat

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — A Belleville Fire Department captain remained hospitalized on Monday, a day after suffering a leg injury while fighting a basement fire in a home.

Capt. Jason Unverzagt was injured in the fire that occurred at 6 Dardenelle Drive on Sunday afternoon, according to Kathy Kaiser, spokeswoman for the city.

No residents were injured in the fire reported at about 1:20 p.m.

Unverzagt said he was walking down the steps toward the fire when he "stepped on a can or something." His leg was pinned between 260 pounds, including his gear.

"I fell on my left leg that folded beneath me," he said. "My 218 body weight plus my gear weight broke the leg. Then I tumbled to the bottom."

As others advanced toward the fire, Unverzagt said he climbed back up the stairs under his own power and collapsed in the driveway.

Engineer Matt Preston and firefighter Kelsey Burrow, took over from there. Burrow and Capt. Fred Vrieswyk advanced toward the fire as Preston dragged Unverzagt to the front yard to wait on the ambulance, he said.

"My crew is to be commended," Unverzagt said. "My firefighter did what I told her to do. My engineer helped drag me to the yard. Then comforted me (while I) was cussing up a storm.

"We're a pretty solid brother/sisterhood. Every one of them have texted or called or came by. I love those guys and gals."

He said Belleville Police officer Phil Koch, a personal friend, was among the first to arrive at the scene when he heard about the injury. His wife, Wendy Unverzagt met him at the hospital.

Unverzagt said he was scheduled for surgery to repair a spiral fracture of his tibia Monday afternoon. The fibula also was broken, he said.

Kaiser said Fire Chief J.P. Penet reported the cause of the fire is undetermined pending an investigation.

The fire did not cause structural damage to the one-story home, which is about a block away from Belleville Fire Station No. 1 at 315 Carlyle Ave. on the east side of the city.

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(c)2022 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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