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A chief on the scene by himself with many people needing help. A look back to a deadly fire last month in DuBois, Pennsylvania.

Click here for more video from the fire.

The video above was taken on December 18, 2009 well into the operation at the burning apartment building on Jared Street in DuBois, Pennsylvania. A little earlier in the day, shortly after the 7:00 AM call came in, the first person to arrive on the scene was DuBois Fire Chief Jim Corby.  Corby found fire on the first and second floors of the multi-story apartment building that also has businesses on the ground floor. The smoke conditions were extreme.

Before any other firefighters arrived, Chief Corby was faced with many people on fire escapes and many others at windows. In the end, two people died and seven were injured. There is now a detailed account from Chief Corby and the first arriving crews posted by  A.J. Sylvis at the Courier Express. Here are excerpts:

Corby saw a man in the second-floor window calling for help and he could see another face.

Standing about 20 feet below the window, he could do nothing to help the people at the window. He said he felt helpless and was worried they might try to jump or leave the window and run back into the burning building. He became aware that the fire escape was starting to come down and realized that people were getting out of the building using that route. 

Chief Jim Corby from DuBois VFD website.
Chief Jim Corby from DuBois VFD website.

Corby said he was committed to not leaving the people at the window. He told the man, “Help is on the way. Stay low and stay at the window. I know where you are.”

Everything was happening at once; he was maintaining contact with the man at the window, running the fire scene and requesting additional help.

“This was up and beyond the average fire call,” Corby said.

As he anxiously awaited the arrival of fire trucks, he was hoping that the ground ladder on the fire engine would reach the window. He looked away for a second and when he looked back, the man was gone.

“Where are you?” Corby yelled, worried that the man had left the window and turned back into the burning building. Then he saw a hand reach up at the window and wave. Corby said he was not aware there were more than two people at the window.

As soon as the trucks arrived, Corby grabbed a ladder from firefighter Greg Vida and raised it up to the window. Assistant Chief John Emerick and firefighter Bob Lepeonka helped position the 24-foot ladder, which barely reached the window. Firefighter Herm Suplizio went up the ladder, followed by Vida, while firefighter Paul Smith accessed another ladder nearby to assist Suplizio.

Firefighter Bill Boyle and Ron Shick, DuBois construction code officer, rushed to climb the fire escape ladder to check on residents. The smoke and fire conditions worsened, causing problems with breathing and visibility. They were replaced by equipped firefighters Dan Baronick and Dave Shepherd.

A man was located near the fire escape, where he had collapsed and died.

Visibility was a problem for firefighters on the ladder because of the smoke. A 2 1/2-year-old boy – Gavin Zawrotny – was carried down first. He resisted and did not want to leave his parents, James and Amanda Havrilla. Suplizio handed the child to Vida, who met him half-way up the ladder.

Suplizio climbed back up the ladder and took the baby, 7-month-old Sarah Havrilla. “When I got her, she was not breathing. It scared me. I was blowing in her face, shaking her and after what seemed to be minutes but probably was seconds she started crying. All this happened while I was still at the top, the last rung of the ladder. And I hate ladders to begin with. I avoid them at any cost,” he said.

Sarah was handed to Vida halfway up the ladder and then given to DuBois Policeman Lanny Prosper. DuBois police Officers John Licatavich, Matt Roberson and Shawn McCleary were also helping at the scene.

James and Amanda Havrilla were then brought down the ladder by Suplizio.

Firefighters launched an interior attack. Within minutes, a victim was located inside, dead.

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