- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A volunteer firefighter who died fighting a house fire in Brandon that also killed the homeowner had a high blood-alcohol level when he responded, investigators said Friday.

An autopsy determined that Steven Ackerman, 38, had a blood alcohol level of nearly 0.19, more than twice the legal limit for driving, police said. The 14-year volunteer with Valley Springs Fire and Rescue died April 12, and investigators determined he likely fell through the floor in the burning home.

The fire, which also killed 47-year-old David Smith, started in a first-floor vent pipe enclosure that served a basement furnace and water heater. The blaze has been ruled accidental, authorities said Friday. It was never considered suspicious.

Both Ackerman and Smith died of smoke inhalation, Brandon Police Chief Dave Kull said.

Firefighters responded to the scene shortly after 10 p.m. and encountered heavy smoke coming from the garage. Smith was taken from the home around 10:35 p.m., and five minutes later, all firefighters were ordered out.

Ackerman was reported missing about 11 p.m. His body was found in the basement about 1:30 a.m. the next day and recovered about 10:30 a.m., when it was transported to the coroner’s office.

Valley Springs Fire Chief Don Johnson could not be reached Friday. It’s unclear whether that department has a policy regarding alcohol use, although many do, state Fire Marshal Paul Merriman said.

In South Dakota, more than 95 percent of the state’s 337 fire departments are volunteer, and they all have their own policies governing conduct, Merriman said. There’s no uniform policy regarding alcohol use and currently no state law that gives the fire marshal’s office oversight in these matters. But Merriman said during state-certified training firefighters are taught about issues regarding being impaired while volunteering.

“It’s important to remember that two people lost their lives and it was a tragic event, and I guess what a guy hopes is from events like these, usually comes an opportunity to learn from them and hopefully be safer going forward,” he said.

Ackerman was the 43rd firefighter to die in the line of duty in South Dakota since 1924, and the 22nd volunteer firefighter to be killed. Hundreds of people turned out for his funeral.

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