December 12, 2013

Firefighters rescued man trapped in basement of burning Waterville building

A Mount Pleasant Street fire Wednesday night appears to have started near a dryer on the first floor, although the cause remains unknown, according to officials.

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — When firefighters arrived at the scene of a Mount Pleasant Street fire Wednesday night, flames had engulfed a large portion of the back side of the building.

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Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans FIRE RESCUE: Mark Hamilton, a reuse technician with the Waterville fire department is being credited with rescuing a man from the basement of an apartment building fire on Mount Pleasant Street in Waterville on Wednesday night.

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Staff photo by David Leaming DAMAGE: The back portion of this home at 1 Mount Pleasant Street in Waterville is blackened from fire that occurred on Wednesday evening, Dec. 11, 2013.

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Captain Mike Michaud and Mark Hamilton, a rescue technician, were walking around the two-apartment building when they heard a man crying for help.

“I saw Mike looking up and yelling,’Where are you?’ but we couldn’t see anyone,” said Hamilton, who has worked full-time for the fire department for 10 years. “Then we looked at the basement, where there were bars on the windows, and saw a face.”

Because of insulation blocking the door, Michael Gray, who’d become trapped, couldn’t get out. So Hamilton kicked in the door from the outside and descended into the smoke-filled basement, where he helped Gray escape.

“He didn’t have a whole lot of time left. He had sealed himself basically into the basement and with all the smoke there he couldn’t find his way. He knew he was stuck,” said Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain.

Gray had been insulating the basement at the 1 Mount Pleasant St. building when the fire started, and the exterior door in the basement had been blocked by layers of insulation and plywood when the fire started on the first floor.

LaFountain said that if Michaud hadn’t walked around the building, he probably wouldn’t have found Gray. Firefighters had been busy searching the floor the fire was on and the floor above it, and hadn’t gotten to the basement, he said.

“He was way in the back corner of the basement. When Mark kicked in the door we were able to get him quickly out of there,” he said.

Gray was taken to the Thayer Center for Health, where he was treated for smoke inhalation and later released, said LaFountain.

Gray could not be reached for comment Thursday.

About 98 percent of firefighter training is focused on saving lives in the case of a fire, but it is rare that a rescue is made in which a person comes out alive, said Lt. John Gromek.

Hamilton, who has training in emergency medicine and life saving skills, said that although the rescue is part of his job, it is uncommon to perform rescues in structure fires because usually people get themselves out of the building before emergency personnel arrive.

The fire Wednesday night displaced three people — Gray and his wife Renee, who lived on the first floor, and another tenant, Les Mosher, who lived on the second floor, said Gromek.

He said Mosher was staying with relatives and that the Grays were staying in a hotel provided by the Good Will-Hinckley organization, where Renee Gray works.

The fire was accidental and started near a dryer in a first floor entryway, said Gromek.

It is unclear how the fire started but since it has been ruled accidental the department will not be investigating further, he said. The owners of the building, Arlene and Fred Michael, of Raymond, do have insurance, said Gromek.

 

Rachel Ohm— 612-2368rohm@centralmaine.com

 

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