B y Derek Liebig
The Whitehall Police Department and the local fire departments have released their official reports on a fire last month that claimed the life of a local woman and injured a man on Broadway.
Police have positively identified the victim as Tina Green, 45, of 120 Broadway. Medical examiners determined the death as asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation.
The second victim, Albert Choppy, 48, of 120 Broadway continues to recover from burns he suffered in the blaze and was classified as in stable condition.
According to the report, Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company chief Michael Putorti and Whitehall Police Sergeant Richard LaChapelle were the first to arrive on scene and attempted to enter the building though a second floor porch but were prevented from doing so by high heat and dense smoke Neither had the necessary protective gear.
Upon arrival, Whitehall Fire Captain Tom Rock and firefighters Leon Gordon and Phillip McKee were informed of people entrapped within the building and made the decision to enter the building without the aid of a handheld hose line.
“We could hear them screaming and did what was natural from our training,” said Gordon.
After entering the building the firefighter’s encountered intense heat, the hottest Gordon said he had ever felt, that triggered a small propane canister to explode striking McKee with metal fragments.
Because of smoke, visibility was practically non-existent, so firefighters worked their way around the perimeter of the room until they were able to locate Choppy behind a bedroom door and moved him to the kitchen where WVFC chief Bryan Brooks and SVFC member Scott Rozell helped move Choppy onto the rear porch where WVFC Scott Wescott and SVFC Adam Mickel administered CPR until he was loaded into an ambulance by the Skenesborough EMS.
“It felt like we were in there for an hour, but we had him out in five minutes,” said Gordon.
After removing Choppy, Brooks and SVFC second assistant Chief Craig Bascue knocked the fire down and eventually encountered a second victim who had passed.
In his official report, Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company deputy chief Brian Brooks praised the efforts of both departments in knocking down the blaze and saving the Choppy’s life.
“Because of the selfless acts of bravery, in complete disregard for their own personal safety, the heroism displayed by Firefighters Leon “Scooter” Gordon, Phillip McKee, and Fire Captain Tom Rock, exhibited the highest ideals of fire service,” Brooks wrote.
Gordon was hesitant to accept any praise for his selfless actions.
“It ain’t special. It was what I was expected to do. I did what was necessary,” said Gordon, who works in corrections and is in the Army Reserves. “We are very serious about our training and when hard stuff comes your way, you know what to do.”
Brooks also singled out Bryan Brooks, Bascue, Wescott and Mickel for their role in saving Choppy’s life.
“They set a fine example of valor, courage, training and teamwork that brings credit to them, and to all members of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company and Skenesborough Central Volunteer Fire Company,” Brooks wrote.