Firefighters Recovering: Two Suffered Burns While Trapped by Claremont Blaze
Claremont Fire Captain Chris Pixley looks through the remains of a chicken coop and covered porch at the back of Ruby Wien's home in Claremont, N.H. Monday, March 3, 2014. Three Claremont firefighters were injured while fighting the fire Sunday night.
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The home of Ruby Wien stands, gutted by fire, in Claremont, N.H. Monday, March 3, 2014. Wien's family escaped the fire, but three firefighters were injured while trying to save the home. (
Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Claremont — Two Claremont firefighters were recovering Monday from burns they suffered Sunday night while narrowly escaping a blaze that destroyed a house on Cherry Hill Road.
A spokeswoman at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital described as “good” the condition of Lt. Andrew Stevens, while a spokesman at Fletcher Allen Health Care reported that the Burlington-based hospital discharged Firefighter Scott Kenniston on Monday afternoon.
Fire Chief Rick Bergeron said that Stevens, a 10-year veteran, suffered “pretty significant burns to his hands and arms, and also to the neck and chest,” and Kenniston, a member of the force for seven years, received burns to his knees, arms and torso.
Sunday night, Claremont’s Valley Regional Hospital had discharged volunteer firefighter and City Councilor Nick Koloski after treating him for non-burn injuries he suffered to a wrist and a thumb while helping first responders from Golden Cross Ambulance pull Stevens and Kenniston out of the house and into its driveway after the two had issued a distress call.
While Bergeron was working to confirm on Monday that a “heating lamp” in a chicken coop under a deck behind the house triggered the blaze, homeowner Farogh “Ruby” Wien and his mother, his son, his sister and his sister’s family were regrouping at the Claremont home of one of Wien’s two brothers.
“We are doing fine physically,” said Wien, who owns gas stations on Pleasant and Main streets in Claremont. “We’re still trying to absorb the shock.”
Bergeron said that “flash-over conditions” on the second floor and in the basement, with temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, trapped Stevens and Kenniston on the first floor of the house, forcing them to battle their way to safety “on their hands and knees” through the route they followed in.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Bergeron said. “Flash-overs kill many firefighters around the country every year. Conditions are extreme.”
Wien said that nine people in the house, including two guests, were preparing for supper when Wien’s son, Irfan Arif, “told me, ‘Dad, there’s a lot of smoke outside.’ I looked out the window, and it was black. I saw smoke coming out. The smoke was in the house in a couple of minutes.”
Wien said while everyone evacuated safely, the family — including his sister, her husband, and their three children, who moved to the Upper Valley from Pakistan in November 2013 and were staying with Wien while looking for permanent housing — lost most of their possessions.
“Everything of theirs was packed in here,” Wien, who moved to the Claremont area more than a decade ago, said of his sister’s family. “Nothing was opened yet.”
Wien said that the light in the coop was incubating “six or seven” baby chickens against the cold. He added that the chicks, which were in a wire enclosure outside the coop itself, survived, and that the family kept no pets in the house.
Bergeron and his predecessor, retired Fire Chief Peter Chase, said that the last Claremont blaze at which they could remember city firefighters suffering serious injuries happened in late January 2001. Trapped on the second floor of a three-story house on High Street with fire engulfing the ground floor and the top floor, two firefighters jumped and shattered bones — one a wrist, the other a leg, Chase recalled.
“It ended both of their careers,” Bergeron added.
In Sunday’s fire, the rush of flame and heat from above and below Stevens and Kenniston “compromised their escape path,” Bergeron said. “That’s when they called in the Mayday.”
Bergeron added that while Stevens and Kenniston both were wearing fire-retardant clothing and gloves, such gear “only protects us from certain levels of heat. They’re limited once you get up to 500 or 600 degrees or more.
“In a fire like this, ceiling temperatures can be in excess of 1,000 degrees. They were coming out pretty much as (the ceiling) was coming down.”
David Corriveau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 603-727-3304.