Still shocked, West Peculiar fire chief recounts scene of blaze that killed one of his firefighters

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PECULIAR, Mo. -- Fire investigators have wrapped up the investigation into what caused a deadly house fire Sunday morning.

West Peculiar Fire District firefighter Chuck McCormick was killed while fighting the fire.

The call to the home on Deer Run Road and 221st Street came in as a fire in the laundry room on the first floor of the house.

A burned up drier seen sitting in the yard Monday was first thought to have started the fire, according to the family who lives in the home. But fire investors believe the fire most likely started in the basement.

"I don't know what to say except for it`s still kind of surreal. I mean, we are still trying to grasp the fact that this happened to us," said West Peculiar Fire District Chief Bobby Sperry, who was in charge of Sunday's house fire. "There wasn't any indication when we got here that we had anything more than what we call a room and contents fire."

Firefighters made several attempts to put out the fire. Thirty-year-old McCormick was inside on the nozzle with a fire captain, and they seemed to be making progress.

"Right up until the moment I was notified that I had a firefighter inside that we couldn't get a hold of, it was nothing out of the ordinary on this fire to me," Sperry said. "We were stacking up water and units and thought we were right where we wanted to be."

When McCormick couldn't be located, Sperry pulled resources and began searching for him. Several attempts to find him were unsuccessful.

KCFD's rescue squad arrived and went in through the basement, fighting the fire to get to McCormick, whose body was under a large amount of debris.

"Those guys were exhausted, and one of them told me, 'That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do physically to get to him,'" Sperry said.

Investigators believe heat from the fire raging in the basement may have caused the floor where McCormick was standing to collapse.

"I hope we learn from this," Sperry said. "I've read a lot of NOSHA reports or death reports on firefighters over the years about things going wrong. I just never thought I was going to be writing one about what went wrong on my fire."

Investigators with NOSHA spent over 24 hours carefully combing through the inside of the home to recreate what happened to McCormick, while the Missouri State Fire Marshall and an investigator from the ATF figured out what caused the fire that led to his death.

"The amount of damage to the structure and the amount of debris that fell through the floor into the basement area, they tried to put all of that back and try to place where that stuff was in the basement to try and put it back upstairs to reconstruct the scene so to speak," Grandview Fire Chief Ron Grahm said.

Fire investigators said there was a lot of stuff in the house, so it took a lot of manpower and time to get the furniture and other items that fell into the basement back in place.

Investigators traced the fire starting from the least amount of damage, working their way to the areas with the most damage to pinpoint where it started. They examined appliances, power cords and anything electrical that could have sparked the fire.

The final report could be released as late as Wednesday.

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