Chelsea Fire Lt. Arthur Caissie was going about his business last Thursday morning, June 26, doing code enforcement inspections on County Road.
While it’s a necessary component of the Department, it’s also not the most daring assignment.
However, in a few short minutes, Caissie went from ho-hum to hero – pulling two people to safety who were trapped in a burning home on County Road and directing the first engine companies to the heart of the fire.
Caissie suffered severe smoke inhalation injuries as a result of his actions, having to be admitted to MGH Boston for further treatment.
Around 8 a.m. on June 26, Caissie was in the area doing code enforcement inspections and observed heavy smoke coming from the home at 44 County Rd. – a large, grand home with big white columns.
Caissie transmitted an urgent message over his portable radio reporting a working fire.
Immediately after, he observed a frantic man running into the fire. Caissie jumped to action and ran into the burning building and removed the man, who said he had gone in to look for his mother who was still inside.
Caissie, with no traditional fire equipment to protect him, went back into the building and located a woman on the first floor who was trying to retrieve belongings in life-threatening heavy smoke.
“I couldn’t see anything when I entered the building, “ said Caissie. “I was shocked when I found the woman in the heavy smoke and just got her out as quickly as I could.”
As Caissie was coming out of the building, Engine 1 arrived on scene and quickly advanced a hose line into the first floor of the building where heavy smoke and flames were showing.
Acting Deputy Chief Mi-chael Thompson arrived on scene and quickly struck a second alarm.
Engine 3 arrived and the crew was ordered to back up Engine 1’s crew who reported a heavy fire condition on the first floor. Engine 1 further reported they were unable to contain the fire with one hose line. Tower 1 arrived on scene and the crew was ordered to conduct a primary search of the large two-family residence.
Engine 2 arrived on scene and was ordered to advance a hose line above the fire on the second floor. By this time the fire was spreading rapidly up the right side of the structure. Ladder 2 arrived and was ordered to assist Tower 1 in searching the building.
Acting Chief Robert Houghton arrived on scene minutes later and assumed command of the fire.
“The fire was spreading quickly and second alarm companies were not on scene yet,” said Houghton. “Conditions were deteriorating so I ordered all firefighters out of the building.”
Mutual aid was delayed, as the City of Everett was unable to send an engine company to assist. Typically, three additional engine companies and one ladder company are dispatched on each additional alarm level. The closest engine responded from Revere with the other two engines responding from Medford and Winthrop.
“We needed more help right away” said Acting Deputy Chief Thompson. “We had three engine companies operating inside the building, but could not stop the fire from advancing.”
As mutual aid companies arrived and set up, firefighters were ordered back into the building to fight the fire from the interior. Crews were able to deploy hose lines to the first and second floors while other crews located an access stairway to the attic. Additional hose lines were advanced into the attic and after about an hour, the fire was contained.
The property owner notified Chief Houghton of valuable artwork inside the house. Firefighters were able to retrieve most of the valuable paintings.
Crews worked more than four hours to extinguish the fire and check for extension. All occupants were accounted for with no injuries reported.
Four occupants were displaced from the building and the damage was estimated at more than $1 million.
Three firefighters were seriously injured fighting the fire. A firefighter from Engine 2 was struck in the head with a hose coupling. He suffered a concussion and was admitted to MGH Boston with internal bleeding. One member of the Fire Investigation Unit fractured his hand and Lt. Caissie was taken to the hospital with severe smoke inhalation.
The cause of the fire remains undetermined and is under investigation by the department Fire Investigation Unit.