Firefighters and residents remember rescue after fire
Once in a career. That’s how often local firefighters say they need to pull someone from a fire in the Sequim area.
For Clallam County Fire District 3 firefighters on Shift “A,” that instance was Feb. 13 on the 3000 block of Woodcock Road, where they pulled Gregg Vella from a fire at his residence.
“That’s why you train, train, train,” said firefighter/paramedic Mark Mullvain.
“A” Shift met with Vella again on March 1 at District Station 34 to score the rescue in a meet and greet.
“It was a team effort,” Mullvain said.
He said every element of the rescue was essential, including Vella’s 9-1-1 call to Peninsula Communications dispatchers to the numerous firefighters and the Clallam County Sheriff‘s Deputy at the scene.
“All of that allowed us to get there flawlessly,” Mullvain said.
Vella, 68, said firefighters “went above and beyond”.
Said Vella, “They were there in the blink of an eye. It was great!”
Firefighters responded to Vella’s 9-1-1 call at 10:51 p.m. Sunday evening off Woodcock Road.
Ninety seconds passed from the first vehicle to the scene of the fire until Vella was out of his home, Mullvain said.
A Chicago native, Vella called 9-1-1 after smelling and spotting a fire on her porch, and said “as soon as I saw (the fire), I was on the floor.”
“The room filled with smoke from top to bottom,” he said.
Deputy Fire Chief Dan Orr said the blaze blocked Vella’s only exit.
Vella, who had previously suffered a knee injury, was unable to climb on his own.
Firefighters said his communication with dispatchers Mary Rife and Heather Conway and their calm demeanor and quick thinking helped direct shift “A” to exactly where to go.
“The dispatchers did a wonderful job and gave us such a good picture of where Greg was,” captain Kjel Skov said.
Firefighters said they aggressively went to the blaze with the VES (wind, enter, search) maneuver.
They broke a bedroom window and, with the bottom of its ledge about five feet off the ground, Mullvain was lifted into the room, followed by Skov. Firefighters helped Vella out the window with the help of Captain Joel McKeen and Deputy Steffen Estep.
Vella received smoke inhalation treatment and was observed overnight at the Olympic Medical Center, he said.
The fire continued to burn in the attic and was deemed a total loss, Skov said.
The American Red Cross has provided Vella with funds to stay at the Sundowner Motel for the short term as he plans to move into a trailer, he said. He had rented out his old home for 15 years, Vella said.
The firefighters’ quick action kept the situation from escalating, Orr said, because the house was full of belongings and it wouldn’t have taken much longer for the fire to reach Vella.
Mullvain said that while those situations are rare, anyone on the “A” team could have done what he did with his training and expertise.
McKeen and others said it was the first time in their careers that they had extracted a resident from their home during a fire.
Captain Chris Turner said he and other firefighters responded and helped extract a resident more than a decade ago from a burning trailer on Joslin Road.
Skov said such problems are fortunately rare because people install fire extinguishers in their homes and regularly test smoke detectors.
“That’s a good thing,” he said.
To learn more about Clallam County Fire District 3, visit ccfd3.org.