Lieutenant Bruce Britt, a 23-year veteran of the Columbia Fire Department, died yesterday morning while working at the scene of a walkway collapse at a University of Missouri apartment complex.
Britt, 48, suffered fatal injuries while trying to assist residents at University Village, 601 S. Providence Road, Columbia Fire Chief Charles Witt said. Columbia Fire Department units responded to Building 707 of the MU apartment complex at 4:41 a.m.
Witt said Britt became entrapped after the collapse of a section of second-floor exterior walkway and was taken by ambulance to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Witt talked about the incident during a brief news conference yesterday afternoon at Fire Station No. 1 on Orr Street.
Britt is the first Columbia firefighter to die in the line of duty since Donald “Hector” Crum was killed December 1, 1986.
Witt was joined by MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, City Manager Mike Matthes and other officials. Witt said he spent the morning supporting Britt’s wife, Leigh Britt, who directs the City’s Office of Neighborhood Services, and he said the fire department is working with the family to meet their immediate needs.
Loftin also offered his condolences. “Let me offer, on behalf of the entire university community, the heartfelt thanks we feel for the Columbia Fire Department, for the first responders who this morning ensured the safety of a number of students and their families who were in the affected facility,” he said. “These are difficult times for all of us. We are especially … sending our condolences to Lieutenant Britt’s family in this very difficult time.”
No residents of University Village were injured during the incident. MU spokesman Christian Basi said there are 12 units in the building, and there were approximately 18 people home at the time of the incident.
Residents were evacuated, and Basi said they are being housed in multiple hotels and being offered assistance to meet their immediate needs.
Loftin said the university started “a thorough inspection” of all buildings in the University Village complex after the incident. He said all MU residential facilities were being inspected, and tomorrow all campus buildings will be inspected.
“It’s for peace of mind and to make sure we have no other issues,” Basi said.
MU Facilities crews and construction workers braced the remaining sections of walkway on Building 707. Crews also were working on other buildings in the complex.
MU graduate student Ghazwan Alwan, who said he has lived at University Village for a month and a half, said he heard a loud crash about 4 a.m. He said he and his wife, who is pregnant, were asleep. “We were shocked, we didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Alwan said when he looked out from his second-floor apartment in Building 707 he saw the walkway was falling. It had not yet fully collapsed. He called 911.
Alwan said shortly after the first responders arrived, a firefighter was on the walkway outside his apartment trying to communicate with him through a window. He said he told the firefighter not to come on the walkway because it wasn’t safe, and shortly after that the walkway collapsed with the firefighter on it.
“I was just telling him … and suddenly he fell down,” Alwan said.
Alwan said firefighters evacuated residents out of back windows using ladders. He and his wife are now staying with friends, and he said they were told they should be able to get into their apartment to get their belongings today.
Alwan said he and his wife came here from Iraq for this semester. He said they will be moving out and will not live in a university apartment again. “I will not stay in this kind of apartment anymore. I will not feel safe here,” he said.
Alwan said about three weeks ago the building was evacuated because of high levels of carbon monoxide. He expressed concerns about the building not being properly maintained.
Basi said he doesn’t know the last time the building was inspected but it has been within the past couple years.
University Village is near the southwest corner of Providence and Stewart roads adjacent to the MKT Trail. It was built in 1955, Basi said. It has one- and two-bedroom units and is for students who have children, single graduate students and undergraduates older than 21, according to the MU Residential Life website.
Saturday evening, about 75 people, many of them residents of University Village, gathered for a candlelight vigil at the apartment complex to honor Britt.
Lina Trigos, who said she has lived in University Village for three years with her husband and son, organized the event.
“It’s very sad this happened,” she said. “It’s something you don’t expect … because it could be any of us, but it was this person who came here to serve the community. He was brave.”
Resident Nayereh Ghazanfarpour, who has lived at University Village with her husband since this summer, was among the attendees. “It was respectful for us to come here because he put his life” at risk “to save people. He saved my friends,” she said.
Thank you to The Columbia Daily Tribune for permission to repost this article.