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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 15, 2011

Blaze at Marion Court takes the life of a 71-year-old resident

ALTAMONT — An elderly woman died in a house fire on Marion Court on Tuesday, overcome by the heat and smoke just steps from her door.

The fire call was received by the Altamont Fire Department at 11:52 a.m. on Dec. 13, and Assistant Fire Chief Robert White was the first person to report to Ethel Davis’s house at 2 Marion Court.

“When I first got there I saw heavy smoke coming from the eaves and flames at the left side of the house on the ground floor,” White told The Enterprise yesterday. A visible hole had already burned through the siding of the house, he said.

The fire was reported by a passer-by who saw the smoke and called 9-1-1 from his cell phone.

“When I first arrived, I helped remove oxygen tanks from the garage,” said White. The oxygen tanks were used to help Davis breath, and had to be removed from the premises as soon as possible because of the potential for explosion, he said.

White said he thought there might have been someone inside the house, and, through the garage, he was able to force the kitchen door open and call out.

“I got no response,” he said. “Intense heat and smoke hit me in the face and I had to retreat.”

When the Altamont Fire Department trucks and crew arrived, they established a water line, using a fire hydrant on the cul-du-sac and were able to reduce the flames quickly, said White. A second crew assembled and began to search the house, where they found Davis, who was 71, just inside the kitchen door, off to the side.

“She almost made it out; she must have been overcome by the heat and smoke,” White said.

Once the crew had gotten Davis outside, emergency medical service personnel began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but, said White, it was too late; Davis was moved off to the side and her body was covered.

Arrangements are by the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont.

Firefighters continued to battle the blaze while they waited for the coroner and Davis’s family members to arrive.

The Altamont Fire Department was assisted by mutual aid companies from the Guilderland Center and Fort Hunter Fire Department. The North Bethlehem Fire Department provided firefighter rehabilitation support. The Knox and Carman Fire departments provided stand-by coverage crews. Emergency medical support was provided by Guilderland EMS and the Altamont Rescue Squad.

Rescue and fire-fighting vehicles, as well as police cars, lined the quiet cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Altamont, in the shadow of the Helderbergs.

A stone lion on a pillar stood in front of the two-story suburban frame house, and a small, hand-carved wooden sign with a picture of a country home hung from chains, announcing “Joe & Ethel.”

After the fire was extinguished, crews began an overhaul of the house, looking for hot spots and hidden pockets of fire.

“From what we could see, it seemed like the fire must have been burning for two to three hours before we got there,” said White. “Parts of the first floor were burned all the way through the beams and into the basement.”

“Due to the location of this home on a cul-du-sac, it took some time for someone to find this unfortunate situation,” said Altamont Fire Department Chief Paul Miller in a press release.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Town of Guilderland Fire Investigation Bureau with support from the New York State Office of Fire Protection and Control. The cause was not immediately apparent, said White, and the fire investigators were on the scene until 9 p.m. on Tuesday. No report has been issued yet.

“In 28 years with the department, this is the first fatal fire I’ve responded to,” said White. The department held a critical incident stress de-briefing for the first responders at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

“People will tell you that this is all just a part of the job, but it affects everyone differently,” said White. “You just do what you have to do; it’s just reaction.”

By Anne Hayden

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