Chief feared death after fall through burning floor

Blue Lake Township Fire Chief James Petrie speaking to 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday Aug. 23, 2016.

BLUE LAKE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Blue Lake Township fire chief found himself in a moment of desperation Monday afternoon after he fell through the floor of a burning home.

The incident happened after firefighters responded to an active fire at a home in Holton Township. Blue Lake Township crews, including Chief James Petrie, responded to assist. Minutes after going inside, the chief fell through the floor and into the burning basement.

Tuesday, Petrie told 24 Hour News 8 that at the time, he thought the fire was contained to the upper part of the home. He said he did not realize that the floor below him was also on fire.

“I was reaching, grabbing, trying to stop myself from going in,” Petrie told 24 Hour News 8 of his fall. “‘Boy, is this going to be it?’ Then I kind of checked myself and said ‘Son, you need to get back in the game. You need to get back in the fight.'”

Moments later, his colleagues put out a mayday call and everyone on scene came to his aid. They were eventually able to get him out of the hole he fell into using an attic ladder. He sustained only very minor injuries.

Petrie said firefighters in Muskegon County just completed extensive training on basement rescues in June.

“All that training paid off yesterday,” he said.

Blue Lake Township Fire Department Lt. Michele Bridges and Capt. Kevin Pycraft were among those to help get the chief out.

“Wow, what could have happened didn’t. This is as close as you can get to that line without crossing that line,” Bridges said. “We train like our lives depend on it because it does.”

Petrie said the departments involved are conducting a two-prong investigation, looking into what caused the fire and what was behind the mayday situation.

The situation was emotional for the firefighters who were at the scene. In more than 20 years of fire service, the chief said Monday’s incident was only his second mayday call. He said it was a reminder of the dangers first responders face every day.

“There was a lot of hugs and kisses and stuff yesterday,” Petrie said. “Probably sweeter than they’ve ever been before.”

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