Fire forces man to jump

February 23, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - A man who jumped three stories from a fire in his Fairground Avenue attic apartment this morning broke both legs and was flown to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for burn treatment, Hagerstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Randy Myers said.

Two families were displaced as a result of the reported 5:12 a.m. blaze at the 34/36 Fairground Avenue building, which sits next to an alley, not far from Sheetz on Potomac Avenue. American Red Cross of Washington County was helping the families this morning, Myers said.

When firefighters arrived at the building, a white-sided double house with a peaked attic, Lester Harmel, 59, was lying down across the street from the house. Myers said he wasn't sure if he was moved there by a Hagerstown Police Department officer who responded first to the scene or if he crawled there on his own.


Harmel was listed in critical condition this morning at Bayview Medical Center, a spokeswoman said.

"He had to jump," Myers said.

Two people were found standing on the building's balcony roof, which sits below the second story windows. They were taken by firefighters to the ground, he said.

Myers said Harmel might have been in better shape had he jumped onto that balcony roof, but instead, he jumped from a side window, which had nothing below it to break his fall.

When firefighters arrived, flames were lapping out of the windows on the left side of the house from which he jumped, melting the siding on a house across the alley where two people slept, he said.

The fire was sent into a second alarm.

"We pulled a lot of additional units," he said.

Myers said that at its peak, about 40 firefighters from Hagerstown, Long Meadow, Maugansville, Halfway and Funkstown were fighting the fire, which took about 30 minutes to control.

"The floor between the first and second floor is completely gone," Myers said as firefighters working inside the house chucked debris out the windows.

Myers said the fire was reported as "an attic fire," but said he didn't know yet where the fire started or what caused it.

Libbie Whipp, 41, who lived in an apartment inside the building, said she and her boyfriend were getting ready for work when "We started hearing some banging around."

Whipp said her boyfriend was going to go upstairs to see what the commotion was, but didn't get far.

"We turned around and could see the redness against that building," she said, pointing to the house next door that had its siding melted.

"Some guy just broke into house and told us to get out," she said. "The only thing we could think about is grabbing our shoes."

Whipp said they escaped through the back of the house.

Whipp was standing on a nearby porch, smoking a cigarette and watching the firefighters work. A man who lives at that house allowed the American Red Cross to set up there while he went to work, she said.

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