|Agency||Chicago Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Age Range||36 to 40|
|Date of Birth||0/0/0|
|Date of Death||5/19/1998|
|Cause of Death||Caught/Trapped|
|Nature of Death||Asphyxiation|
|Attribute of Death||Equipment failure , Drowning|
|Type of Duty||Search and rescue operations , Water rescue operations|
On May 19, 1998, Firefighter Eugene W. Blackmon, Jr., of the Chicago Fire Department was on duty working at his regular assignment with Squad 5. At approximately 12:41 PM, Squad 5 was dispatched by the Englewood Fire Alarm Office to an apparent drowning incident in the Calumet River at 135th and Indiana Avenue.
Upon Squad 5’s arrival, Lieutenant William Kleinick of Squad 5 was ordered by Battalion Chief James Stedman (Battalion 22, relief) to assist divers from Air and Sea Rescue in conducting an underwater search for two possible drowning victims.
Lieutenant Kleinick ordered Firefighter Eugene Blackmon and Firefighter Dennis Cahill to enter the water and join the search. Firefighters Terrence Sheppard, James McNulty (Engine 84) and Johnny Stewart (Truck 18) remained on shore to assist with other duties. Squad 5 conducted a search pattern from shore with Firefighter Blackmon and Firefighter Cahill secured to a safety line. This search continued for about ten minutes; both divers returned to shore where they were joined by Firefighter John DiSilvestro and Firefighter John Ewald, both from Air and Sea Rescue.
Battalion Chief Stedman and Lieutenant Kleinick both agreed that it would be best to wait for a Chicago Police or Coast Guard marine unit to arrive so that all four divers could use the boat to dive from. The first boat to arrive on the scene was a Coast Guard cutter which remained about fifteen to twenty yards from shore. A four inch hose inflated with air was stretched out to the cutter and was to be used as an additional safety floatation device.
Firefighters DiSilvestro and Ewald made their way out to the cutter and boarded it. Firefighter Blackmon and Cahill entered the water and began to make their way out to the cutter using the four inch hose as a safety guide. Firefighter Blackmon took the lead pushing his air tank along with his buoyancy compensator as he worked his way out to the center.
Firefighter Dennis Cahill was preparing to enter the water when all of a sudden he heard Lieutenant Kleinick yell out, “Gene, are you alright? Gene, are you alright?” Lieutenant Kleinick then told Firefighter Cahill to go help Firefighter Blackmon because he had gone down. Firefighter Cahill dropped his air tank, his buoyancy compensator and weight belt and dove in the river wearing his wet suit and fins. Firefighter Cahill assumed that Firefighter Blackmon was still near the surface, however, upon arriving where Firefighter Blackmon was assumed to have gone under he was not near the surface.
Firefighter Cahill began free diving working his way to the bottom and searching for a few seconds at a time. Firefighter DiSilvestro, who was on the cutter, jumped in with full equipment and assisted in the underwater search. After a couple of dives, Firefighter DiSilvestro found Firefighter Blackmon and attempted to bring him to the surface. Firefighter Blackmon was wearing his weight belt, therefore, making it difficult for Firefighter DiSilvestro to raise him to the surface. Firefighter DiSilvestro released his own weight belt to increase buoyancy and managed to bring Firefighter Blackmon to the surface. Upon surfacing, Firefighter Cahill grabbed Firefighter Blackmon’s hood and at the same time Firefighter DiSilvestro lost his grip because he was struggling with the weight of Firefighter Blackmon and the weight of his belt which he was still wearing. The rubber hood stretched on Firefighter Blackmon’s dry suit until it snapped out of the hand of Firefighter Cahill. Consequently, Firefighter Blackmon went under again. Firefighters Cahill and DiSilvestro dove under again in an attempt to resurface Firefighter Blackmon but were hampered by fatigue.
At this time a Police Marine unit arrived at this location. Firefighter Cahill informed the police diver as to the approximate location where Firefighter Blackmon went under. The police diver entered the water and retrieved Firefighter Blackmon on his first attempt. Firefighter Blackmon was brought to shore where paramedics were waiting. Efforts to resuscitate Firefighter Blackmon at the scene wee unsuccessful; he was transported by Fire Department helicopter to Christ Community Hospital in Oak Lawn.
At approximately 2:51 PM, the helicopter arrived at Christ Hospital’s Emergency Room where Firefighter Blackmon was turned over to the emergency room staff. Efforts to resuscitate him failed and he was consequently pronounced dead at 3:08 PM by the attending emergency room physician.
Summary provided by the Chicago Fire Department.