A tragedy in South Dakota that led to the death of a homeowner and a volunteer firefighter had some new information shined upon it last week. Volunteer Valley Springs firefighter, 38 year-old Steve Ackerman was legally intoxicated when he responded to a house fire on April 12.
Unfortunately, the fire killed both Ackerman and the homeowner, 47-year-old David Smith. With the new information, that Ackerman had a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal driving limit, many are wondering if things would have turned out differently had Ackerman been sober when he responded to the fire.
According to KDLT News, although officials can only speculate as to whether Ackerman’s blood alcohol level played a role in his death, the fact is he had a highly-elevated blood alcohol content while he attempted to fight the fire. “We regrettably have to report that Mr. Ackerman’s toxicology exam came back indicating that he had a blood alcohol concentration of .189,” Brandon Police Chief David Kull told reporters.
Minnehaha County Fire Chiefs Association President Mike Harstad told reporters “It puts a different light on the entire situation.”
The fire, which was ruled an accident, started in a first floor vent pipe enclosure. That enclosure fed both the basement furnace and water heater. Once the fire began, it spread quickly, according to KSFY. When Ackerman made it to the scene of the fire, he made the call to evacuate the building in an attempt to save David Smith’s life.
“Though his judgement to respond to the fire in the first place is arguably flawed, we have to remember that Steve was the one that made the correct call to evacuate the structure, and that the two firefighters that were on the entry team with him inside the burning home were able to exit uninjured,” Kull told reporters with Argus Leader. Unfortunately, both Smith and Ackerman eventually succumb to the smoke and fire and lost their lives.
The other firefighters who responded to the scene told the Argus Leader that they saw no signs of impairment on Ackerman’s part, but they hope that his death will at least serve as a lesson to other firefighters who might think about responding after having a few drinks.
“We must accept the facts for what they are and learn lessons that will shape the future of the fire service, not just here in Minnehaha County, but in a much larger area,” Harstad told reporters.