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Young Firefighter Receives Surgery After Fighting Fatal Blaze

Young Firefighter Receives Surgery After Fighting Fatal Blaze

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Chicago Tribune via YellowBrix

April 02, 2010

HOMEWOOD, IL – A 21-year-old Homewood firefighter underwent skin-graft surgery Thursday to repair first- and second-degree burns suffered in an extra-alarm fire Tuesday night that claimed the life of a firefighter and an elderly war veteran.

Karra Kopas, a part-time firefighter/paramedic and Prairie State College student, was upgraded to fair condition Thursday while recovering in the burn unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Kopas’ family could not be reached for comment, but they released a statement saying Kopas “is recovering well” but that “her main concern is for the loss of her fire department colleague who died in the fire.”

A hospital spokesman said doctors used skin grafts to close wounds from heat-damaged skin on Kopas’ right hand and backside.

“We can’t say enough about the support we have received from other firemen and the whole community,” Kopas’ mother, Debbie, said in the statement. “Our whole family has been touched by the outpouring of support from the brotherhood of firefighters throughout the region.”

Meanwhile, investigators are still trying to determine what sparked the fire in the home of an elderly couple around 9 p.m. Tuesday in the 17600 block of Lincoln Avenue in Homewood. A rookie firefighter only two months on the job, Brian Carey, 28, and Wendell Elias, 87, were killed in the blaze, which fire officials said may have been accelerated by the presence of oxygen tanks inside the home. Elias’ wife, Bertha, 89, escaped the fire with minor injuries.

In suburban Homewood, a community of almost 20,000, the entire fire department remained on leave as neighboring departments and local businesses rallied in support. Several restaurants brought food by the station, said Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld. At least one local dry cleaner offered to clean all firefighters’ uniforms for free. And a local man was encouraging residents to tie red ribbons around trees to honor the firefighters’ sacrifice.

“They’re just little gestures, but they’re the kind of fabric that holds a community like Homewood together,” Hofeld said.

Similarly, fire departments across the south suburbs have stepped in to spell Homewood firefighters while they’re away. They manned the station, coordinated response efforts and took calls from the media.

“We’re all brothers, and we work with each other to get through tough times,” said Ken Verkirk, assistant fire chief in Lansing. “It’s important for (Homewood firefighters) to step away from this for a while and to get their heads in a better place.”



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