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Firefighter killed in blaze had high blood-alcohol level

SIOUX FALLS (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 to the scene, 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 while fighting the fire, and investigation determined he likely fell through the floor in the burning home.

The fire, which also killed 47-year-old homeowner 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. that Sunday 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 of the burning home.

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.

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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