Fire on Milwaukee's south side leaves 1 dead, firefighter injured

NOW: Fire on Milwaukee’s south side leaves 1 dead, firefighter injured

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – A woman is dead and a Milwaukee firefighter is hospitalized with serious burns after a fire Sunday on Milwaukee's south side.

It happened near 8th and Arthur. Crews were called to the scene just before 5 a.m.

The fire spread to three homes. A neighbor told CBS 58 an elderly woman died in the fire. She was identified by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office Monday night as 72-year-old Monica Lemke. 

The American Red Cross said they're helping 10-13 people that were affected.

"The fire actually was ablaze through, into the street. It was like, jumping out," said Rose Ann, a neighbor who lives just a few houses down from the scene.

She said the fire spread quickly and took the life of a woman with physical disabilities.

"She was in the very upstairs of the building that was on fire," Rose Ann said. "This happening, and all of us having to come together and know that everything is gone for some of the people that we live closest to, has hurt us."

The neighbor told us the woman's husband got out safely.

According to Chief Aaron Lipski with the Milwaukee Fire Department, as a firefighter was trying to rescue her, he became trapped.

"This firefighter was trapped by fire that had burned through the floor, from the second floor to the attic of a home we call a Polish flat," Lipski explained. "Fire burned up behind that firefighter as he was searching the floor for this trapped victim."

The firefighter called rescue teams for help, who were able to break open the attic window.

"Our firefighter came head-first out of that window, and was cradled by firefighters down that ladder, where our paramedics immediately began tending to that firefighter," Lipski said.

The rescued firefighter is at Ascension Columbia St. Mary's with severe burns on 23% of his body.

When speaking to media at the hospital, Chief Lipski said the firefighter has been with the department for three years.

"This was a very marginal fire. I am telling you, we were probably 30 seconds away from planning a firefighter funeral today," Lipski said.

He also noted the training used, that likely saved this firefighter's life, is called Rapid Intervention Training - which the firefighter's own father spearheaded bringing to the Milwaukee Fire Department years ago.

The scene of the fire was less than one block away from Milwaukee Fire Station #31, which was shuttered in 2018 due to budget cuts.

On Sunday, Chief Lipski expressed frustration that their five-minute response time could have been shorter had that station still been open.

"The difference between driving across the street and up the block, versus coming from Kinnikinnic and Otjen to the 2400 block of south 8th, it is precisely what we have been talking about," Lipski said. "It almost killed one of my firefighters today, and a civilian has been lost."

He said he's thankful policymakers now understand the importance of expanding the department, and they have a plan to re-open several fire stations, including #31, soon.

On Monday morning, family members from a house next to where the fire started were salvaging what they could from their home.

"I really don't know how to describe it. It's terrible," said Rosa Serna, who lived there with her husband and son.

Due to fire damage, Serna said her family will likely be displaced for almost a year, but it's fixable.

"Nothing major, just like, odds and ends. The windows are broken, caught on fire," she explained.

Serna's daughter set up a GoFundMe page for the family, called Rosa's Fire Fund.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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