9/11 Blue Mass

The following was the result of debriefing with those that were involved and eyewitness accounts that contributed to this official statement of events:

On the evening of Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 8:30 pm, the Dispatch Center at Washington County Office of Public Safety notified both village fire companies, Whitehall Volunteer and Skenesborough Central Volunteer Fire Companies, to a reported structure fire at 120 Broadway in the Village of Whitehall. The initial report indicated a fire inside a residential structure.

As fire units were responding, Washington County Fire Control advised that they were receiving multiple calls indicating heavy fire and possible entrapment. Skenesborough Fire Chief Mike Putorti took command and reported a fully involved structure fire and proceeded to conduct a 360° survey of the property. At the rear of the building, Whitehall Police advised him that someone was trapped on the second floor of the residence where the victim was heard screaming for help. Chief Putorti and Whitehall Police Sergeant Richard LaChapelle advanced to the rear second floor porch and attempted to enter the apartment, but found high heat and dense smoke to within one foot of the floor. Sgt. LaChapelle had directed a flashlight into the doorway and yelled into the smoke filled apartment for the victim to crawl towards him, but both firefighter and police were driven back by the intense heat. Although Chief Putorti was geared in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), he lacked Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), as well as the necessary personnel to assist entry per OSHA standards.

The building involved was a two-story wood frame structure with turbulent flames blowing from the two front windows on the second floor (A side), where Skenesborough Ladder 491 was placed. A 1¾ inch hose-line was stretched from Whitehall Engine-Rescue 481 to the rear of the structure, (C side), to the second floor porch area. Whitehall Fire Captain Tom Rock with Whitehall Firefighters Leon “Scooter” Gordon and Phillip McKee were informed by Sgt. LaChapelle that he heard a victim in the apartment and but he could not see him or get to him. Advancing to the second floor porch area, the three firefighters could also hear the victim and quickly decided to make entry in to the apartment without the protection of a hose line.

During the search operation, firefighters encountered intense heat that was rapidly approaching flashover conditions. A loud explosion rocked the room and was heard outside by multiple witnesses. A small propane canister exploded in the heat and Firefighter McKee was struck with metal fragments that burned into his nomex hood to the point he had to reach up and remove the debris to stop the burning. The search and rescue effort continued until they found a 45-year-old male victim unconscious behind a bedroom door off from the kitchen. The three firefighters began to move the victim from the bedroom into the kitchen where Whitehall Fire Chief Bryan Brooks and Skenesborough Firefighter Scott Rozell assisted in getting the victim onto the rear porch. With the victim unconscious and aspirating, Whitehall Firefighter Scott Wescott found no pulse and he and Skenesborough Firefighter Adam Mickel began CPR on the victim until he was loaded into an ambulance provided by Skenesborough Emergency Squad.

Whitehall Fire Chief Bryan Brooks reentered the super heated apartment joined by Skenesborough Second Assistant Chief Craig Bascue and continued to search for another victim. The pair advanced the now charged hose line deeper towards the front of the apartment, where they encountered heavy fire conditions in the living room area and proceeded to knock down the fire. A second victim was located in the living room and had perished in the blaze.

Once the fire was knocked down, a ram fan was utilized for horizontal ventilation, while additional crews contained fire extension in adjoining apartments in the five-unit building. After fire suppression operations were completed, all firefighters were accounted for and then readied for overhaul operations. No firefighters were injured during the incident.

Because of the selfless acts of bravery, in complete disregard their own personal safety; the heroism displayed by Firefighters Leon “Scooter” Gordon, Phillip McKee, and Fire Captain Tom Rock, exhibited the highest ideals of the fire service. Fire Chief Bryan Brooks and Assistant Chief Craig Bascue through their diligence and experience were able to take the appropriate measures needed to assist in the rescue and proceed to locate the seat of the fire and knock it down. Firefighter Scott Rozell’s assistance in removing the victim along with Firefighter Scott Wescott and Firefighter Adam Mickel’s CPR efforts kept the victim alive where he was later transported to the Westchester County Burn Center with burns to 16% of his body.

All of the above firefighters deserve recognition for a successful lifesaving rescue, having set a fine example of valor, courage, training and teamwork that brings credit to them, and to all members of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company and Skenesborough Central Volunteer Fire Company.