Body in burned car; Milwaukee Fire Department makes policy changes

Immediate policy changes are coming to the Milwaukee Fire Department after crews who extinguished a car fire missing a body that was inside the vehicle. Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski offered an investigation update on Tuesday, Feb. 1 into that vehicle fire near 76th and Green Tree. 

"Not a single bit of this is meant to be an excuse. I just want you to all understand what happened," sails Chief Lipski.

A deceased woman was found inside a vehicle that crashed and burned near 76th and Green Tree on Sunday, Jan. 9. The woman was identified as 21-year-old Jenna Reichartz. A worker at the city tow lot found her body hours after the vehicle fire. 

"It is impossible, even after hearing from all firefighters who responded to this incident, to ever prove precisely how each and every member did not see or lay their eyes on this unfortunate deceased individual," Lipski said on Tuesday. "Of this, we are sure. Not a single firefighter did see her."

The fire chief said of the investigation, nobody was ever specifically ordered to search the vehicle's passenger compartment in this case. 

Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski

"This is embarrassing for our organization. But worse, it is undoubtedly extremely angering and adds to the anguish of the victim's family," Lipski said.

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Chief Lipski noted some factors that contributed to this incident – factors he indicated will be used to construct "some very positive change."

Lipski said fire crews were initially dispatched for a vehicle fire. When they arrived on the scene, they found the fire had spread to a nearby building. Those crews made a decision to split their assignments – to tackle the fire on the vehicle and building. The chief said new crews were not ever specifically reassigned to the vehicle fire. The chief said it was very dark and cold outside as well – and may explain why the victim was not seen through the windows of the vehicle.

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"We are changing our auto fire standard operating guidelines to closely reflect that of our structure fire standard operating guidelines -- specific to search procedures," the chief said.

Chief Lipski said the new standards for vehicle fires will include a primary search, secondary search, and a final search. These changes will be implemented now – and include in-person battalion chief-led discussion of expectations with all crews and shifts – as well as company-based training. 

"The family has suffered a great deal. We are sorry, I am sorry for the Milwaukee Fire Department's contribution to that pain – and as I've just detailed, we are taking very, very real steps to prevent its reoccurrence," Lipski said.

Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski

No disciplinary action is being taken against any firefighters in this incident. 

"We are absolutely confident there was absolutely no malice. There was no intent to miss this. There was most definitely a miss, I’ve said this over and over again," Lipski said. "We must absolutely work to prevent this from happening again."

The chief emphasized this incident demands protocol change and retraining.

FOX6 News has reached out to the family of Jenna Reichartz and have not heard back.

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