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Neighbor praised for rescuing children from West Lebanon fire

  • Valley News photographs — Geoff HansenFire Investigator Anthony Booth of the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal's office, right, works with Lebanon Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Libbey, center, to investigate the cause of a fire in one of the units at The Village at Crafts Hill Apartments complex in West Lebanon. At left is Lebanon Fire Capt. Jeffrey Egner. Nine residents were taken to the hospital for evaluation. Valley News photographs — Geoff Hansen

  • Devin Isaacs of West Lebanon speaks with the media about the effort he and others made to pull four children from smoke-fillled apartments in West Lebanon on Friday. Geoff Hansen / Valley News

  • Lebanon Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Libbey briefs housing officials and the cleaning crew the morning after a fire in one of the units at The Village Crafts Hill Apartments complex in West Lebanon, N.H., on March 30, 2018. Nine residents were taken to the hospital for evaluation. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

  • Nine people were taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in the early morning hours of Friday, March 30, 2018, and two children were rescued by a neighbor following a smoky fire that heavily damaged an apartment at The Village at Crafts Hill apartment complex in West Lebanon, N.H. (Lebanon Fire Department photograph)



Valley News
Friday, March 30, 2018

If it wasn’t for the quick action of neighbor Devin Isaacs, an overnight fire in a West Lebanon apartment complex could have proved deadly.

Isaacs, who lives in the unit across the hall from where the fire broke out at The Village at Crafts Hill, woke up shortly before 2 a.m. as a neighbor frantically pounded on his door. The strong smell of smoke was spreading through his ground-floor apartment.

Isaacs went into the hallway as his neighbor screamed, “My kids, my kids.”

“I asked her where her kids were ... I don’t know if she was in a panic-attack or that stage where she just couldn’t answer me,” Isaacs, a 24-year-old cook at the Weathervane restaurant in West Lebanon, recalled Friday afternoon. “I sent her outside and said ‘I’ve got you, I’ve got your kids. Everything will be okay.”

Her apartment was on fire, and Isaacs entered the burning unit to rescue her two toddlers, one of whom was in a crib in a back bedroom.

As another man propped the apartment door open, Isaacs fell to his knees and crawled through the smoke-filled unit in what he remembered as the last few feet of clear air remaining.

He found a 3-year-old standing in the living room “screaming her head off” and rushed her into the hallway and handed her off. He went back on his knees a second time and crawled to the back of the apartment and found an 18-month old crying in her crib.

“I tucked her into my chest so that she didn’t breathe any of the smoke in and I crawled back out with her,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs and other rescuers on the scene weren’t done. Isaacs knew a neighbor upstairs had two small children, so he rushed to her door. She too was panicking, and Isaacs, along with residents Gregory Haggerty and Evan Antonellis, ran into her smoke-filled apartment to get her son and daughter out.

“It was black. You couldn’t see,” Haggerty recalled. “It was pretty scary.”

By that time, the Lebanon Fire Department had just arrived on scene. It took crews only three minutes to get to the complex on Pine Tree Lane, but time seemingly stood still for the men.

A total of nine people, including Isaacs, Haggerty and Antonellis, were taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for smoke inhalation. All nine had been released by Friday afternoon.

Lebanon fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said he was withholding the name of the woman who lived in the unit where the fire started at this time.

Christopoulos said he was thankful the situation wasn’t worse. In addition to the neigbors’ actions in helping the children out of the burning building, the complex, which is owned by Twin Pines Housing Trust, has hard-wired smoke detectors that automatically warned tenants and alerted the Lebanon Fire Department.

As a result, Lebanon firefighters, with help from Hanover and Hartford, Vt., responded almost immediately and suppressed the “heavy fire” coming from the kitchen in the ground-floor unit, the fire chief said. Firefighters extinguished the blaze in 15 or 20 minutes, but remained on scene for several hours with Lebanon police. Enfield crews also assisted.

The 100-unit complex has several buildings, and the building where the fire occurred has four segments. A firewall kept the fire from spreading to the other parts of the building.

Isaacs’s apartment and the two units upstairs were damaged by smoke and won’t be habitable until they can be professionally cleaned and repaired. Cleaning crews arrived at the complex Friday.

Twin Pines officials have made plans for those tenants to stay at area hotels, said Beth Long, the apartment’s chief financial officer.

The unit where the fire broke out won’t be habitable until extensive repairs can be completed, and Twin Pines officials are putting together a plan to relocate the mother and her two young children, Long said.

Lebanon fire investigators and an investigator with the New Hampshire Office of the State Fire Marshal spent the majority of Friday sorting through debris in the kitchen of unit where the fire began to try and determine a cause. As of Friday afternoon, officials said the cause remained undetermined and under investigation.

Christopoulos estimated the fire caused upward of $50,000 in damges to the single unit.

Fire officials never encourage people to run into a smoking or burning building, but Christopoulos didn’t hesitate to call Isaacs a hero.

“Absolutely,” Christopoulos said. “We plan on talking to him a little bit more about what he did and certainly from a community standpoint, we are hoping we will do some recognition. ... In my mind, he is a hero.”

Isaacs, a 2013 Hartford High School graduate, has no special fire training, but said his father was an EMT in Massachusetts for years and taught him fire safety as a young boy.

That’s why when he saw thick smoke inside the woman’s apartment, “I knew to get down,” he said.

Isaacs, who has a 2-year-old son, said his parental instincts took over. He is also friends with his neighbors, and all of their children play together.

“I didn’t even think. I just jumped right into action,” Isaacs said. “We’d do anything for everybody.”