2 N.H. firefighters trapped, call mayday during house fire

The incident comes just nine days after a captain from the same department suffered severe burns from an apartment fire flashover


Mark Hayward
The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Surrounded by clutter inside a smoke-filled house, a Manchester firefighting crew lost its bearings and sent out a mayday call Monday morning.

Two firefighters entered the east Manchester house at 196 Peabody Ave. to extinguish the fire. But an unorthodox floor plan and "hoarding-type conditions" hindered access to the fire and momentarily trapped the two, the Fire Department said.

"It was probably 30 seconds, but to them it probably felt like 30 minutes," said Battalion Fire Chief David Fleury.

The homeowner, however, said the word hoarding doesn't reflect the situation. Stephen Sobozenski said his elderly parents recently moved from their house to an apartment, and he was storing their possessions and trying to distribute them.

"I don't like the way that (hoarding) reflects on us," he said.

The two firefighters oriented themselves and departed the house. All nine residents had left the home before firefighters arrived.

The mayday call came nine days after a resident died and Manchester fire Capt. Steve DesRuisseaux suffered severe burns from a flashover while evacuating people from an apartment building on Dutton Street.

[Read next: Boston FFs pay for burned N.H. captain's family's hotel stay]

Fleury said a crew is present at every fire ready to remove firefighters in distress. They have tools at the ready, and the mayday call activated them until the two trapped firefighters got out of the building.

After their evacuation, firefighters worked from outside until most of the fire was extinguished. They then entered the house to douse small pockets of flames.

The family dog, a Maltese, and a cat died in the fire. Sobozenski said a space heater may be responsible. The house sustained an estimated $115,000 in damage.

Fleury said firefighters encounter clutter and hoarding at some calls. They try to catalog such cases, and when fire inspectors visit an apartment with three or more units, they tell the owner to clear out the clutter.

But the fire department has less leverage when it comes to single-family homes.

"You're basically the kingdom of your castle," Fleury said.

DesRuisseaux remains at Massachusetts General Hospital and is scheduled for another surgery on Tuesday, Fleury said.

"He's going to have multi surgeries going forward," Fleury said. Manchester firefighters visit him every day, and he speaks regularly with his colleagues on Facetime.

"He wants to come back to the job he loves," Fleury said.

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(c)2021 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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