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Second woman dies from injuries in fire

Jeremy Arias
Frederick News-Post

(12/10) A woman died from her injuries Tuesday in a Pennsylvania burn unit, the second fatality resulting from Monday’s house fire on West Main Street in Emmitsburg, officials said.

Diana Lyn Meyer, 43, was in critical condition at Lehigh Valley Hospital until about 2 p.m., when she was pronounced dead by medical staff, according to a Frederick County Sheriff’s Office news release.

Geraldine Rachelle Jones, 74, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after firefighters pulled her from the burning building at 112 W. Main St. around 10 a.m. Monday. Jones’ husband, 69-year-old Donnie Jones, remained in critical condition Tuesday at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

"We’re hopeful we’ll be able to interview Mr. Jones in the next couple of days," said Tim Clarke, a major with the sheriff’s office who is also president of Vigilant Hose Co., the volunteer fire station in Emmitsburg. "That would be really helpful to us as the fire marshal makes a determination into what happened in terms of a cause."

Still, neither sheriff’s office investigators nor Frederick County fire marshals were looking at the fire as suspicious as of Tuesday, Clarke said.

"Everything to this point is pointing to it being something that was accidental in nature. ... It’s a lengthy investigation, so what we’re doing is making sure we cover all of our bases," he said.

No firefighters were injured battling the blaze, which also displaced a family of three from an adjoining building. A local chapter of the American Red Cross was assisting that family as of Tuesday.

Rescue efforts

Despite the quick response — the first crew from the nearby station was on scene even as the initial dispatches were broadcast to other stations — and rescue efforts, the loss of two lives was still a hard blow to the men and women who handled the call.

"I’ve been on vehicle accidents and seen a lot of nasty things, but this probably ranks up there with some of the worst," said Vance Click, a veteran of 12 years with the volunteer station. "I do feel that we did everything that we possibly could given the circumstances we were facing."

Click was with the first crew to arrive at the burning building from the volunteer station, which is less than 200 feet away.

"We made entry within minutes, so we were fighting the fire. You fight the fire until you can start to see. ... Once we started getting ventilation, that’s when we started seeing the heavy flames," Click said of the hectic few minutes after he smashed the lower-level windows and broke inside. "There was nobody shouting, nothing. Just heavy smoke, so you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face."

As the smoke inside began to clear enough to see through his faceplate, Click spotted the first of the three residents, later identified as Meyer, prone on the floor.

By that point, running dangerously low on air in his tank, Click knew he’d need help moving the unconscious woman.

"I shook her, you know, ‘Ma’am, are you OK?’ No response. And you just can’t do something like that on your own," he said.

Fortunately, backup arrived as more firefighters reached the building and ran in to help Click rush Meyer out to the backyard.

Christopher McKenna, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, was just setting up a third team to attack the fire from the rear when Click and his team emerged from the smoke.

After beginning CPR on Meyer, McKenna’s team learned that more people were trapped inside. Fresh from the station, McKenna and his team did CPR while the first team dashed into the now rapidly deteriorating structure.

"There was little to no visibility — you couldn’t see a foot in front of you — but there wasn’t much active fire," McKenna said. "There was some stuff falling from the ceiling that would hit you in the head every once in a while, nothing very big, but we knew we had to get out of there as quickly as possible."

After taking one last turn near the front of the building, McKenna and his team found Geraldine Jones in the last bedroom and burst out into the street to get her ready for CPR. Other responders helped Jones’ husband, Donnie, escape the blaze as McKenna tried desperately to get the woman breathing again.

"You’re wanting to make sure you get all the basics. You get an airway open, focus on your compressions," McKenna said. "You’re doing everything you can possibly do, everything in our power to give that patient a chance."

Unfortunately, even the arrival of an advanced life support team from Frederick County a short time later was not enough to revive the 74-year-old woman.

"That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing, to save lives and protect property. And obviously saving lives is our first priority, so when you’re not able to provide a survivable outcome, it’s difficult," Clarke said. "But you also have to look at it a different way, where, if you weren’t there, how much worse would the outcome have been?"

Volunteers met with station leaders, Emmitsburg town officials and others at the station Tuesday to discuss the fire, the first of many official debriefings and discussions fire leaders will hold to help volunteers deal with the stress of the situation and analyze the response, Clarke said.

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