Sentinel & Enterprise
It's easy to forget sometimes, as we get caught up in the daily struggles of our lives, just how remarkable and heroic ordinary people can be when thrust into extraordinary situations.
That's what happened late Wednesday night on West Street in Leominster when a fire erupted in a two-family home.
The fire ultimately and tragically claimed the life of 16-year-old Jakob Chesbrough, even though a crew of Fitchburg firefighters crawled around on the floor of an attic bedroom filled with smoke and fire and brought the teen out of the house.
But firefighters did manage to rescue Jakob's two younger sisters, Caitlynn, 13, and Torrie, 15.
Without these firefighters and their heroic and unselfish actions, the fire could have claimed three people Wednesday night.
The family undoubtedly realizes this and feels a tremendous sense of gratitude for the firefighters, but the North Central Massachusetts community should also realize just how lucky we all are to have these firefighters protecting us at home and at work every day.
Their heroics were chronicled in a Sentinel & Enterprise story on Friday, but they were summed up by Leominster Fire Chief Ronald Pierce.
"It was really a heroic effort on the part of a lot of people," he said Thursday.
Leominster firefighter Scott LaPrade said there was so much smoke in the street when firefighters arrived to the house, it was difficult to tell which home was on fire. "You couldn't see anything," said LaPrade, a 20-year veteran of the department. "As soon as we got out of the truck, we were told people were still trapped inside the home."
LaPrade took a line to the second floor of the home in an attempt to locate the people inside.
"I got upstairs and it was extremely hot," LaPrade said. "The smoke was thick from the ceiling to the floor. I could barely hear someone whimpering." LaPrade said he was able to make his way over to Caitlynn, whom he could hear, and tell her she had to come with him, but the girl was disoriented and initially refused.
"I kept telling her we've got to go, but she said no," LaPrade said. "The smoke was so thick that I couldn't tell she was on a bed next to a window."
Outside the home, Leominster firefighters John Picone, Paul Doig and Charlie Muth noticed the girl through the window and immediately set up a ladder to get her out.
Likewise, Fitchburg Fire Chief Kevin Roy said firefighters from Fitchburg's Engine 1 executed the search of the third floor of the West Street home in Leominster that resulted in finding Jakob, who later died. "We arrived on scene and were asked by the deputy to make a search," Roy said. "They made the search, found the third-floor stairway and located the 16-year-old."
Roy said the third floor of the home had heavy smoke and "zero visibility." The firefighters had to crawl on their stomachs to find the boy.
"They were sweeping the floor and bumped into something that they knew was not furniture," Roy said. "At that point a firefighter is trained to use the hands, and at that point they knew they had the young boy."
Roy said Fitchburg Lt. Roberto Alicea and firefighter Todd Reese carried the teen from the third floor to the second floor, where other firefighters helped remove him from the home.
In all, more than 40 firefighters responded to the scene from Leominster, Fitchburg, Sterling and Shirley. Roy said Fitchburg frequently aids Leominster firefighters, and visa versa.
"Everyone just comes and does the job they need to do," Roy said.
And sometimes, like Wednesday night, that job is saving lives.
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September 21, 2009