Rochester Church Fire Leaves One Person Dead, Officials Say Cause Remains Under Investigation

Emergency personnel in Rochester, New York, responded to a fire that broke outside the basement of a local church on Thursday morning, leaving one person dead. Firefighters did not immediately identify the deceased individual, nor did they provide details about the individual's connection to the church, after extinguishing the flames.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, a representative from the Rochester Fire Department told reporters at Spectrum News Rochester during a brief interview at the scene. The department confirmed this information directly in comments to Newsweek later on Thursday.

Lieutenant Ryan Fleming, the fire department's public information officer, said crew members received a call that reported smoke emanating from Immanuel Baptist Church around 8:30 a.m. ET on Thursday. The department's first unit arrived at the scene within three minutes of receiving the report, Fleming told Spectrum News. At first, "they didn't find anything," he explained. When firefighters entered the building, they followed the trail of smoke to its origin site below the church's ground-level entrance.

"Upon further investigation, they found the source of the smoke and the fire in the basement. And, unfortunately, there was a deceased victim in the structure," Fleming said. "Right now, the fire is under investigation and the crew is working to find out what happened."

According to Spectrum News reporter Scott Barstow, Rochester firefighters discovered the deceased person inside the basement of Immanuel Church upon identifying the source of the smoke. Fleming told Newsweek that details about the victim were not available on Thursday afternoon.

Photos and videos shared to Barstow's Twitter account about an hour after firefighters arrived at the scene showed personnel from Rochester's fire and police departments gathered outside of the church's entrance. Yellow tape, which designated the area a crime scene and instructed passersby not to cross through, surrounded the building's periphery.

We were told it’s really early in the investigation. someone that arrived to the church this morning called and said they smelled smoke in the structure. When fire got on scene they found a small fire in the basement. #roc @SPECNewsROC pic.twitter.com/qifA1EUeWM

— scott barstow (@barstow_scott) October 29, 2020

In additional comments to reporters at Rochester First, another local news outlet, Fleming reportedly confirmed officials from the city's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were involved in the investigation. He said cooperation between both departments is standard procedure when someone is killed during a fire. Fleming also confirmed no one else was harmed as a result of the incident, according to Rochester First.

"We don't take this lightly. Any time we have a fatal fire or someone gets severely or gravely injured, we don't take it lightly as a department," he said in reported comments to the news organization. "So, this is a sad day for us, any time we have a fatal fire."

Newsweek reached out to the Rochester Police Department for additional details about the fire and investigation into its cause Thursday morning, but did not receive a reply. This story will be updated with any response.

Rochester police came under national scrutiny in September, after a video that showed officers violently restraining Daniel Prude, a Black man, during an arrest that preceded his death surfaced on social media. The video's release sparked mass protests in the upstate New York city and gave way to increased conflict between local law enforcement and the surrounding community.

This story was updated at 2:45 p.m. ET to include confirmation and additional comments from Fleming about the morning's fire.

Rochester New York
Police tape lines a neighborhood sidewalk in Rochester, New York, on September 19. Local authorities are investigating the cause of a fire that broke out inside Rochester's Immanuel Baptist Church early Thursday morning. Joshua Rashaad McFadden/Getty