Daring rescue by firefighters at major apartment blaze

Witness the damage in this “two-alarm” fire caused by a ‘careless smoker’ …

Firefighters face an intense, fast-spreading fire at a Mill Park apartment building. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

By David F. Ashton

Four people were injured, and two of them were transported to a hospital, when an intense blaze ripped through an apartment complex in the Mill Park neighborhood on July 13.

The alarm was reported at 4:10 p.m., bringing in Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) apparatus and firefighters from Powellhurst Station 29 and Mt. Tabor Station 19 – followed minutes later by Mill Park Station 7 – to the Hidden Court Apartments at 2305 SE 121st Avenue, just north of SE Division Street.

Firefighers prepare to enter a unit already fully engulfed in flames. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Arriving firefighters reported seeing thick black smoke and two-story-high flames billowing from the front of the building. The fire that reportedly started on the first floor quickly spread to involve five units.

“Due to heavy fire showing from the building, and a high rescue profile, the incident commander upgraded to a second-alarm, bringing additional resources to assist with vital firefighting and rescue functions,” said PF&R spokesman Lt. Rich Tyler.

One of those was injured in the fire was a man who jumped out the back window of his apartment to escape the fire, and landed hard, on the ground below.

Fire spreads among the second story units. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

“I still can’t believe that the building burned up like it did,” Darlene Gilmore told East Portland News, as she looked at the charred, still-smoldering structure. “So many of us were lucky to get out alive.

Many residents safely escaped the rapidly-spreading fire, but one individual did jump from a second-story balcony to escape the blaze, and was injured in the fall.

A PF&R paramedic treats a fire victim. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Neighbors told firefighters that a bedridden man, who relies on a feeding tube, couldn’t get out.

So, PF&R’s Andy French and other firefighters headed into the building, and found their way to the victim though the smoke. “He was calling out to us, making it easier to find him, where he lay on his bed,” French said.

“We had to figure out how to disconnect his feeding tube before we took him out,” French told reporters.

The firefighters carried the man from his room, and out to safety. The man was later described as “alert and all right”.

“Most of the credit for this rescue goes to the firefighters that got the fire knocked down and out of the way so he can get in and do the search,” French commended.

“I thank Portland Fire for saving my apartment,” said Jerry Volante, “But my heart goes out to those who lost their possessions.”

One of those families was preparing for their daughter’s wedding, and lost her wedding dress and traditional jewelry in the blaze.

Crews continue spraying down the building, after the fire has been extinguished. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

The American Red Cross, Cascades Region, opened a shelter for residents affected by fire, according to organization spokesman Justin Pittman. “The shelter, located at City Bible Church, was available to the approximately 20 adults and nine children affected by the fire.”

A day later, Lt. Tyler reported, “The cause of this fire has been determined to be improperly discarded smoking material.”

Cigarettes are the leading cause of residential fire deaths in Oregon, Tyler added, “And, these fires are preventable.”

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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