On May 19, 1998, Firefighter Eugene W. Blackmon, Jr., of the Chicago Fire Department was on duty working at his regular assignment with Squad 5. At approximately 12:41 PM, Squad 5 was dispatched by the Englewood Fire Alarm Office to an apparent drowning incident in the Calumet River at 135th and Indiana Avenue.
Upon Squad 5’s arrival, Lieutenant William Kleinick of Squad 5 was ordered by Battalion Chief James Stedman (Battalion 22, relief) to assist divers from Air and Sea Rescue in conducting an underwater search for two possible drowning victims.
Lieutenant Kleinick ordered Firefighter Eugene Blackmon and Firefighter Dennis Cahill to enter the water and join the search. Firefighters Terrence Sheppard, James McNulty (Engine 84) and Johnny Stewart (Truck 18) remained on shore to assist with other duties. Squad 5 conducted a search pattern from shore with Firefighter Blackmon and Firefighter Cahill secured to a safety line. This search continued for about ten minutes; both divers returned to shore where they were joined by Firefighter John DiSilvestro and Firefighter John Ewald, both from Air and Sea Rescue.
Firefighter Blackmon and Cahill entered the water and began to make their way out to the cutter using the four inch hose as a safety guide. Firefighter Blackmon took the lead pushing his air tank along with his buoyancy compensator as he worked his way out to the center.
Firefighter Dennis Cahill was preparing to enter the water when all of a sudden he heard Lieutenant Kleinick yell out, “Gene, are you alright? Gene, are you alright?” Lieutenant Kleinick then told Firefighter Cahill to go help Firefighter Blackmon because he had gone down. After a couple of dives, Firefighter DiSilvestro found Firefighter Blackmon and attempted to bring him to the surface. Firefighter Blackmon was wearing his weight belt, therefore, making it difficult for Firefighter DiSilvestro to raise him to the surface. Upon surfacing, Firefighter Cahill grabbed Firefighter Blackmon’s hood and at the same time Firefighter DiSilvestro lost his grip due to the weight of Firefighter Blackmon’s belt which he was still wearing. The rubber hood stretched on Firefighter Blackmon’s dry suit until it snapped consequently, Firefighter Blackmon went under again.
At this time a Police Marine unit arrived at this location. Firefighter Cahill informed the police diver as to the approximate location where Firefighter Blackmon went under. The police diver entered the water and retrieved Firefighter Blackmon on his first attempt. Firefighter Blackmon was brought to shore where paramedics were waiting. Efforts to resuscitate Firefighter Blackmon at the scene were unsuccessful; he was transported by Fire Department helicopter to Christ Community Hospital in Oak Lawn.
At approximately 2:51 PM, the helicopter arrived at Christ Hospital’s Emergency Room where Firefighter Blackmon in efforts to resuscitate him failed and he was consequently pronounced dead at 3:08 PM by the attending emergency room physician.