A Sept. 1 fire at 112 1/2 Main St. was intentionally set, according to Washington Fire Chief Dave Rhoads, who got the news from the State Fire Marshal’s Office this week.
“The fire marshal’s office is calling it an intentional fire, but we can’t tie anybody to it,” he said.
The building is one in a row of buildings owned by Mary Wright. The bottom is vacant, according to Rhoads, but the upper level has two apartments.
“That building has a front and rear entrance,” he said. “The fire started between the two apartments in the hallway.”
Jennifer Rasche was in the apartment that runs the length of the building. She later told Rhoads it was her ex-husband’s apartment and she’d just arrived there that day.
“She smelled something and opened the hall door and saw smoke and knew she couldn’t get out that way,” the chief said. “She closed the door and called us.”
Rhoads said smoke was showing when firefighters arrived, and Rasche was at a window on the back of the building.
“She was standing in heavy smoke when we got to her,” he continued. “A few more minutes and it could’ve gotten to her.”
Rhoads said power lines leading to the back of the building complicated the rescue.
“There were too many wires and stuff to get the truck back there,” he explained. “We had to get a ladder and put the ladder up to that rear window. Fireman (Dwayne) Murphy went up the ladder and helped the lady to safety. With his assistance, she was able to climb down the ladder herself.
“It was more interesting than I wanted it to be.”
Murphy said Rhoads, Firefighter Steve Hedrick and Battalion Chief Kevin Pride assisted him with the rescue. He said although he’s been at the scene of several rescues in his 10 years as a firefighter, this was the first he personally handled.
Rhoads said generally people get out burning buildings on their own, so it doesn’t often happen that someone’s inside when the fire department arrives.
“We’ve had three this year,” he said. “Prior to that, I hadn’t had three in my 21 years.”
Earlier in the summer, Hedrick pulled an unconscious male out of the bedroom of a burning residence on Southwest Fifth Street, and last spring people were trapped in a burning apartment building on Northeast Seventh Street. One woman didn’t make it out of that fire.
Murphy said he doesn’t really remember a lot of details about the rescue. He said his training just kicked in and he did his job.
At first, Rasche didn’t want to climb down the ladder, he recalled.
“I went up and helped her get her feet out and get started,” Murphy said. “We always go up and help them down.
“I remember telling her to hold her breath and come on down. She didn’t want to come down the ladder. She kept asking for a bucket truck.”
But there was simply no access for a truck. Murphy said it took three or four firefighters to get the ladder safely up to the building.
“I just remember watching the power lines,” he said.
Rhoads said Rasche was not injured in the fire and signed a release for the ambulance crew. He called damage from the fire “moderate.”
“It’s salvageable,” he said, adding most of the damage was in the hallway and there was a lot of smoke damage.
“We were very lucky on this building. It could’ve gotten really ugly.
“Even short staffed like we are, we were able to get it out quickly.”
He said 13 firefighters were on the scene fighting the fire until about midnight. However, they stayed on site until 1 a.m. to monitor hot spots. There was some concern the fire would spread through adjacent buildings, so Vincennes City Fire Department was on call in case their ladder truck was needed. Rhoads said they weren’t needed.
“We could’ve lost that building and more if (Rasche) hadn’t been there and called,” he said.
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