Cops search for attacker in firefirefighter shooting
By JOE GORMAN
Police Chief Robin Lees said whoever shot at a city firetruck late Monday while it was leaving a call – wounding a firefighter – has a “specific grudge” against the fire department.
Lees, however, would not say what leads him to believe that. An investigation is ongoing, he said.
In the meantime, police will accompany fire crews on all calls until the person is caught, the chief said.
Lt. Paul Lutton, 46, is being treated at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital for a gunshot wound to the leg he suffered about 11:25 p.m. Monday while in the passenger compartment of Engine 7 in the 100 block of Halleck Avenue on the North Side. Another firefighter also in the passenger compartment had a bullet pass through his turnout gear, or gear that firefighters wear when they answer a call.
Engine 7 is housed at the fire station at Madison Avenue and Elm Street. Firefighters at the time were leaving a vacant house fire on Elm Street. Fire Investigator Capt. Kurt Wright said the home was the scene of a previous fire in June.
There is no official cause yet. Wright said he was checking with Ohio Edison to make sure the electricity was turned off at the house before issuing a ruling.
Investigators said firefighters told them they saw someone in a driveway on Halleck Avenue who may have fired the shots, which came from an assault rifle. Police searched the area with a dog but could not find the person.
Lt. Doug Bobovnyik of the detective bureau said there were reports that firefighters had an altercation with a man at the scene who then drove away. He said detectives have interviewed several firefighters but no one knows who the man is. Police also were searching for the man’s car, Bobovnyik said.
Fire Chief John O’Neill said that while firefighters expect the unexpected when they respond to a call, the last thing they expect is to be shot at.
“We’re here to help somebody,” O’Neill said. “You don’t expect that.”
O’Neill said he cannot recall a firefighter’s being shot during his time on the job. He said his father talked of shots being fired at firefighters during riots in the 1960s, but he had never experienced it himself. He said there had been talk in the past of having bulletproof vests for firefighters, but that talk was always in the preliminary stages.
“It’s a very cowardly act, whoever did this to Lt. Lutton,” said Mayor John A. McNally. “The police department is aggressively investigating who the shooter was. I hope they find the shooter to alleviate the concerns of the public about someone shooting at firefighters.”
A firefighter’s job is dangerous enough, McNally said, without “having to worry about getting shot at while putting out a fire. Unfortunately, we’re not immune to these types of incidents. The police department is taking their job very seriously, and we’re directing every resource to catching this person.”
Lees said officers from the department’s Community Police Unit will help to respond to fire calls. Typically, police and firefighters show up at some of the same scenes, such as accidents or if paramedics need help gaining entry to a house that is locked up.
However, Lees said most times firefighters call police only if they need help with traffic control or if they are in a violent part of town, or if the call they are answering is related to violence.
Lees said he was surprised, but not shocked, at the shooting “given the level of gun violence in the community.” He said even though he does not believe firefighters are being targeted randomly, he said police will be accompanying them on all calls for the time being.
In 2015, city firefighters responded to 195 vacant house fires and 5,521 calls total.
Contributor: City hall reporter David Skolnick