Hook & Ladder Assistant Chief and incident commander Jason Rivera is crediting three local police officers for "putting their lives on the line," by rushing into a burning home early Sunday and rescuing two occupants who were overcome by smoke and carbon monoxide fumes.
"These officers are to be commended," Asst Chief Rivera tolf The Newtown Bee a few hours after his company completed clean up at the scene at 31 The Boulevard. "They certainly put their lives in jeopardy by going in. Luckily, the victims were located close enough to an entry point so they were able to get them out."
One of the victims had reportedly called 911 to report the fire, before losing consciousness while on the line with dispatchers. The second victim was apparently unresponsive when the phone call was made. Police Lt George Sinko told The Bee that those occupants were located by Officers Matt Wood, Steve Borges and John McDermott, and "carried to safety."
"They got there quickly and got them outside," Lt Sinko said. "Once they got out in the fresh air, both started responding and began to revive."
Hook & Ladder Chief Ray Corbo said the victims were initially "unresponsive when they were located."
Asst Chief Rivera said the three officers were pulling the second occupant to safety as he pulled up to the scene. He said upon arrival he saw fire showing from a rear bedroom window and noted heavy smoke conditions as volunteers from all five local volunteer fire companies converged on the location at 1:11 am Sunday morning.
Newtown Fire Marshal William Halstead said emergency dispatchers were notified by the occupants of fire and smoke in the home, and they were able to evacuate to an enclosed rear porch.
Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps members treated and transported both unidentified victims to Danbury Hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, the fire marshal said. One of the victims was subsequently transferred to another medical center for more advanced treatment, he said.
An on-scene investigation by fire marshals determined that the fire started when a box of tissues came in contact with a lit candle. Firefighters arrived within minutes of being dispatched.
The house, a one and a half story Cape built around 1940, was heavily damaged from the fire. Firefighters had to cut holes in the roof and the northern side of the house in order to ventilate the dwelling.
Much of the fire was knocked down quickly, but smoldering materials on the home's second level required the removal of those items. Once outside, a growing pile of items was hosed down by firefighters in order to ensure a rekindle would not occur.
Firefighters also worked at length inside the house, primarily on the second level, to douse the interior for the same reason.
No injuries were reported to any of the firefighters. State Fire Marshals also responded to the scene.
Mr Halstead, who is also chief of Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue, said the initial apparent condition of the victims prompted a call to the state fire marshal, but once the conditions of the occupants was determined the state official was not involved in the investigation.
Southbury also sent a team of volunteers to the scene.
In addition to the fire, firefighters had to contend with icing conditions. The roadway became extremely slippery, with areas of slushy ice building up in many sections from water runoff.
Other sections of the road were already slippery from the cold overnight conditions. A town truck was eventually able to get to the scene to spread sand on the road.
The house is on the section of The Boulevard between Church Hill Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road. That section of the road was closed to through traffic while firefighting operations were underway.
Botsford, Dodgingtown, Hawleyville and Sandy Hook were all returned to service by 5:30. Hook & Ladder and the local and state fire marshals remained on the scene for approximately another hour.
Chief Halstead said all responding local companies sent manpower and tankers, but fire hydrants in the area were able to provide the necessary water to fight the fire, which was confined to a bedroom, an adjacent bathroom and attic storage area above the room of origin.
According to town land records, the building is owned by Nancy Rahikka, but it is unclear if the owner was one of the victims who was hospitalized.
The fire marshal said while fire was confined to just the three areas of the home, there was significant heat and water damage throughout.
Chief Corbo said responding volunteers did "great work getting a hose line on the building and the roof ventilated," and said that quick work helped confine the fire to the three areas mentioned.