Closed door saves South Derry home 14-year-old family dog dies from smoke inhalation

By Shawn Cunningham
© Telegraph Publishing LLC

Smoke drifts from the house after firefighters knocked down a fire in the basement of a Melendy Hill home. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Firefighters say that a closed, solid wood door and the monthly business meeting of the Champion Fire Company in South Londonderry saved a Melendy Hill Road home from destruction Wednesday night when a fire broke out in the building’s basement.

There were no injuries, but a family dog died from smoke inhalation.

“We were just about to start our 6:30 meeting when the tone came in,” said Fire Chief Jeff Duda, “and I thought it was late for the 6 p.m. test tones.” But dispatchers reported smoke coming from the house less than a mile from the station. Before firefighters could put on their turnout gear and get the fire engine moving, Duda took the squad’s rescue truck just up the road to see what was happening.

Arriving at the scene, Duda found smoke pouring out of the timber frame home owned by Steve Eisenhauer. Duda then called a second alarm, then a third, activating departments in at least a dozen communities as far apart as Proctorsville and Dover, Manchester and Rockingham. What he did not know was that a simple wood door was holding the heat at bay and protecting the floors above.

Firefighter Ben Priggen shows how he found the door ajar after the fire had compromised the latch.

Firefighter Ben Priggen, who was one of the first three to enter the structure, told The Telegraph that it was hot, but that no flames were visible.

“There was a glow from the basement door,” said Priggen, who was staying close to the floor because of the intense heat. “We weren’t going into a basement fire with just a few firefighters on scene, so we backed away and finished our primary search while we waited for help.”

The heat from the basement melted objects, including a television, as well as  many other plastic items on the first floor.

Priggen said that the heat was so intense that he could not go higher than a few steps toward the second floor, but later found similar melting there.

Firefighters outside broke a second floor window giving the heat an escape route while another crew knocked down the basement fire.

“That basement door was closed,” said Priggen. “If it hadn’t been, this would be a cellar hole.” He noted that a solid door that is shut will help to keep fire from spreading and give residents a chance to escape.

Two sides of the door that slowed the fire. At left, the basement side is charred by the heat while the other side – especially at the bottom where the heat was less intense – is not.

Duda agreed, saying that keeping basement and bedroom doors closed at night and having working smoke detectors can spell the difference between getting out of a fire or not.

While the fire was out, firefighters remained concerned about the scene because the intense basement heat had melted the main breaker and the electricity could not be turned off at the panel so  Duda called for Green Mountain Power to shut off the power from the pole.

During his initial search, Priggen found the Eisenhauers’ 14-year-old dog Roxy overcome by the smoke and began resuscitation, calling for oxygen from the ambulance in an effort save her life, but it was too late. Eisenhauer told The Telegraph that it was tough getting a call saying “your house is on fire,” but even tougher to arrive to find the family dog dead.

“I’m just so glad none of the kids were home,” said Eisenhauer.

Last evening the cause of the fire was still undetermined and, just after 10 p.m., the last of the South Londonderry firefighters returned to quarters.



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