Veteran firefighter injured in Champaign fire
CHAMPAIGN — A veteran Champaign firefighter remained hospitalized Saturday with injuries suffered as he tried to make sure other firefighters were out of a burning restaurant.
Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said Lt. Jeff Lattz was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield to be treated at its burn unit for burns to his face and ears and for inhalation of superheated gases.
At noon, he was listed in serious condition.
Lattz, 40, was one of about 30 Champaign firefighters called at 2:45 a.m. to a blaze at the Layalina Mediterranean Grill, 40 E. Springfield Ave., which opened Nov. 1. Over the years, the building just east of the viaduct has been home to Mas Amigos, Murphy's Deli and Pie-Full Delight.
Springfield Avenue between First and Neil streets reopened to traffic about 11:20 a.m. after having been closed since firefighters arrived.
As of late morning, the remains of the building had been razed out of concern for safety.
"Command staff deemed it unsafe for any of our personnel, including investigators, to go in," said Champaign Fire Marshal John Koller, explaining that means firefighters will be unable to pinpoint a cause.
"It's going to be an undetermined fire. We don't have any thought there's anything suspicious here," said Koller.
Based on what firefighters saw when they arrived, Koller said they believe the fire started in a wall on the second floor of the house that is attached to the restaurant on its north side.
An apartment on that floor was occupied, but Koller said the renter left Friday evening to go out of town and was not home. Koller said the man's dog reportedly escaped the fire but hadn't been found by midday Saturday.
According to Forsman, Lattz and another firefighter had gone to the second floor of the house to make sure there were no occupants present and to get other firefighters out.
"The fire was very difficult to find. There was a crew on the second floor searching the apartment to make sure there was no one inside and looking for fire. The fire began to develop very, very quickly. The (other) crew did escape. As Jeff and his crew were starting to exit, they became involved in really hot smoke and gases."
Forsman said that despite being fully outfitted in his bunker gear, Lattz breathed in the superheated fumes. One other firefighter was with Lattz at the time, and he was not injured.
"He (Lattz) came out under his own power. He's conscious," said Forsman, who said Lattz was transferred to the Springfield hospital after first being taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.
"If you breathe that in, it can blister your lungs and esophagus. That's what they are concerned about," he said.
Lattz has been on the department 18 years.
Koller said Lattz was injured in the very early stages of the fire. After he got out, command officers made the decision to fight the fire defensively.
"It means you do an exterior fire attack rather than interior," Koller said.
The restaurant's owner is Hamada Saleh, according to a News-Gazette business story earlier this month. The Champaign County supervisor of assessments website lists the property owner as William Burgess.
Kris Koester of the public works department said Water Street between Logan and Springfield would be closed while heavy equipment continues to clean up the site.