Fire officials release more details on ‘accidental’ blaze

MILDRED – When Fire Chief Josh Fitzgerald and his brother-in-law, Gilbert Pedro, an assistant fire chief, pulled up in front of the burning Ber-Mil Apartments on Friday afternoon, they knew they had to work quickly to save a man trapped on a first-floor porch roof.

“It is believed that the victim was asleep in a back bedroom” when a fire erupted in his second-floor apartment, said Fitzgerald’s father, Edward, who also is an assistant chief with the Mildred Volunteer Fire Co.

“I was told the man jumped through a window” and out onto a porch roof, the elder Fitzgerald said.

The fire chief and Pedro had raced to the fire scene at 7450 Route 487 about 4 p.m., after responding to the firehouse to pick up the company’s main pumper moments after the fire was reported.

They quickly pulled a ladder off the truck and Fitzgerald climbed it to reach the victim, who was about 12 feet off the ground.

Fitzgerald picked up the victim and carried him down the ladder over his shoulders, said the chief’s father, who arrived on the scene with another apparatus minutes after the daring rescue.

As other emergency responders began to treat the injured tenant, whose identity was not released, firefighters carried a hose through the front door and up to the second floor and began attacking the flames in the victim’s apartment.

All other tenants who happened to be in the nine-unit, three-story apartment house safely escaped. The burned victim shared his apartment with his girlfriend, who was not in the building at the time of the fire.

The victim, believed to be in his early 20s, was flown to the burn unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. Emergency responders said he suffered smoke inhalation and burns, but his injuries were not life threatening.

Most of the fire damage was confined to the victim’s apartment, but there was some minor fire extension to a unit on the floor above, Assistant Chief Fitzgerald said. Apartments on the first floor sustained water damage, he added.

He said the cause of the fire has been ruled “accidental” but declined to release specifics. He identified the owners of the apartment building as Richard and Amy Swaggert, of Laporte. Two of the nine apartments were vacant, he added. A final damage estimate has not yet been determined.

Fifteen people were displaced by the fire and most of them “are staying with relatives or friends,” Fitzgerald said. It was not known how soon the tenants will be able to move back into the building.

Although the bulk of the fire was knocked down in a matter of minutes, firefighters remained on the scene until late Friday night, conducting their investigation.