Couple escapes house fire; 4 firefighters hurt

The scene after a house fire on Lexington Avenue NW in Grand Rapids. (Jan. 19,2016)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOO) — Smoke alarms are being credited with helping a couple to escape their burning home on Grand Rapids’ West Side.

The fire at the home in the 200 block of Lexington Avenue near Chatham Street NW was discovered before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Sandy Lenger’s boyfriend first heard the smoke alarm.

“He went into the kitchen and heard crackling and noticed smoke was coming in and we got out,” Lenger said. “It was coming pretty heavily up the steps when we were coming downstairs. It was real heavy.”

Firefighters work to put out a fire at a home on Lexington Avenue in Grand Rapids. (Jan. 19, 2016)
Firefighters work to put out the fire.

Lenger credits the smoke detector for saving her and her boyfriend’s lives.

“The fire department, I know, gives them free. A lot of people give them for free. Take advantage of that. And make sure you test them,” Lenger said.

You can get smoke detectors through the city’s Residential Safety Program by going to its website or calling 311 or 456.3000.

By the time firefighters arrived at the scene on Lexington, smoke was pouring from the eaves of the home. Things went downhill from there.

Fire consumed the upper portion of the home. As crews battled the flames, a portion of the calling came crashing down, injuring four firefighters, prompting a mayday call by firefighters.

“You don’t want to hear it. It’s one of us that’s hurt, trapped or lost,” GRFD Training Chief Lee Finlayson said of the mayday. “Luckily enough, it doesn’t happen very often.”

But when it is called, a mayday sets off a series of events at a fire scene that test the training and discipline of the firefighters.

Radio communications between dispatchers and firefighters Tuesday exemplified that discipline. Crews on the scene made sure the injured firefighters were able to get out of the house and dispatchers sent extra help because firefighters had to not only help their injured comrades, but also put out the flames.

Finlayson said the way to react during a mayday is drummed into every firefighter’s head:

“What it does is kind of beat into their heads overtime, they’re traveling up and down this stairwell, if something happens to them, why they call a mayday,” he said.

Two of the injured firefighters were hospitalized but have since been released. The remaining two were treated at the scene.

The scene after a house fire on Lexington Avenue NW in Grand Rapids. (Jan. 19,2016)
The scene after the fire.

“I know a bunch of firefighters and they earn their keep. You guys out there, I hope you’re all good,” Sandy Lenger said of the injured firefighters.

Firefighters said temperatures in the single digits hampered them and their equipment. They also had to keep water flowing from the hydrants so they didn’t freeze.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

*Editor’s Note: Fire officials on scene originally told 24 Hour News 8 that two firefighters were injured in the fire. A press release from the Grand Rapids Fire Department later stated that four firefighters were injured. The correction is reflected in the story above.

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