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Milwaukee fire chief outlines reforms after firefighters missed body in burned vehicle

Posted at 11:55 AM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-01 12:55:21-05

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski says the department will undergo both protocol changes and additional training as they seek to find out how firefighters did not see the body of a woman in a car that had been on fire last month. The burned remains of the woman were later discovered by a worker at a city tow lot.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office previously identified 21-year-old Jenna Reichartz as the person who died in the vehicle fire.

Chief Lipski said during a press conference on Tuesday that he is now certain no firefighter ever saw her body in the passenger compartment, and that no firefighter was ever ordered to search the compartment.

Watch the press briefing here:

Policy changes include constructive meetings within the fire battalions, and additional training among the companies.

The chief also released more details about the incident. He said that one engine and one ladder arrived for an auto fire at 6829 North 76th Street on Jan. 9, where they found both the car on fire and a nearby building on fire.

The two fires forced responding crews to split into two groups. The size of the building required additional time for crews to search for any people inside the vacant building.

At some point the initial engine ran out of the water as crews put the car fire out. No new crews were ever reassigned to the car after the fire had been extinguished, the chief said.

We will update this article with the specific policy changes when we receive them.

Once extinguished, around 6:11 a.m., the vehicle was towed to the Milwaukee tow lot at 3800 West Lincoln Ave., the fire department previously said. Around 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, over three hours after crews put out the fire, a lot attendant found what appeared to be human remains in the backseat of the vehicle.

According to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD), video obtained from a gas station several blocks away shows the vehicle going slowly through a green light, traveling up a curb and into a parking lot where it came to a stop. According to the investigation report, the vehicle was in the parking lot for a long time before it slowly rolled into an electrical box. Smoke was seen coming from the front of the vehicle and then caught fire, according to the investigation report. MFD was unable to determine from the video if anyone exited the vehicle and fled the scene. The investigation report goes on to state that the victim's body could have been moved to the back seat by the water from the fire hoses that were used to extinguish the fire.

According to the investigation report, the fire appeared to have started in the engine compartment and burned to the rear of the car.

Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski said during a press conference following the incident that firefighters "failed in protecting human dignity."

Lipski was emotional then about what he described as a failure by responding firefighters to protect human dignity and provide grieving families some closure.

"The Milwaukee Fire Department takes its duty to protect life and property very seriously, respecting humanity and human dignity always. As we clearly did not locate the deceased victim on this scene, we failed in protecting that human dignity," Chief Lipski said. “Our failure to locate this person deprived them of their dignity and I am deeply sorry for that."

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