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2 investigations underway in Peculiar line-of-duty death

Posted at 6:21 PM, Jan 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-06 20:27:11-05

PECULIAR, Mo. — Two investigations are underway stemming from a fire that resulted in the line-of-duty death of a firefighter.

West Peculiar Fire Protection District firefighter Chuck McCormick, 30, died Sunday after battling a house fire west of Peculiar.

The first investigation will determine what started the fire at the house on South Deer Run Road. The other will examine what caused McCormick to lose his life.

The Missouri State Fire Marshal will play a role in the immediate investigation.

"Due to the damage because everything on the first level fell down into the basement. So, they've got to pull all that out, layer by layer, and try to piece it back together,” Grandview Fire Chief Ron Graham said, “and it's hard to really determine exactly where the fire started right now because of the amount of damage."

A representative from the fire marshal's office told 41 Action News they do not have a final cause yet, but believe the fire began in the basement – not the laundry room where the homeowner's girlfriend, Paula McWhirt, saw fire coming from the dryer.

"I was just sitting at the kitchen table and I saw little flashes in the laundry room," McWhirt said, “and it was a fire, and I just started yelling for the kids to get out.”

Within minutes, crews from the West Peculiar Fire Protection District arrived on scene. Chief Bobby Sperry, of the West Peculiar Fire Protection District, said one of his crew who “was on the nozzle got separated from the captain.”

“The captain came out at some point notified us that he did not have his firefighter,” Sperry said.

McCormick might have been trapped for up to 30 minutes, according to Sperry.

Rick Drake, a neighbor, said crews on scene tended to McCormick.

"They were working on him trying to bring them back and everything," Drake said.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is handling the second investigation. Representatives from the organization will review McCormick's death and issue a report with recommendations to prevent similar events from happening in the future.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting local and state fire investigators with the case.