Neighbor saves two men from East Missoula trailer fire
By COLIN McDONALD of the Missoulian
Just after 3 a.m. Sunday Justin Tolliver awoke to the sound of screaming and breaking glass. He thought his neighbors were having a fight, so he grabbed a baseball bat and bolted out the front door of his home.
But the fight Tolliver encountered was far different than he expected. His neighbors' trailer, less than 8 feet from his own, was on fire and resident Richard Schnell was yelling for help from inside. Others in the small community of Tandy's Trailer Court in East Missoula heard the commotion and came out to help.

Tolliver used the bat to break down the front door of the burning trailer. He had to jump to the side as flames burst through the doorway. Through the smoke Tolliver could see his neighbor lying on the living room floor next to a couch which was already engulfed in flames. Schnell uses bottled oxygen to help him breathe and had recently purchased a scooter to help him get around. Tolliver could see that he was not going to be able to get out of the trailer on his own. "Breathing all that hot air could not have been good for him," Tolliver said.

It took him three tries to drag Schnell out of the trailer. Schnell's nylon windbreaker had melted to his body and sheets of his skin were peeling off his body as Tolliver pulled him to safety, he said. Then Tolliver remembered that Schnell had a housemate who was still in the trailer. Tolliver ran to the back door and yelled inside, but could see nothing through the smoke. Afraid he'd get lost in the smoke, he remained outside the trailer but continued to yell for the housemate to get out. Finally, Kenneth Rich woke up and stumbled out of the burning structure. "He's my hero," Rich said of his neighbor. "If he had been two minutes later I would have been a different color."

Neighbors from the trailer park quickly gathered and began treating Schnell for shock until paramedics arrived. Firefighters from the East Missoula Rural Fire Department arrived and prevented the blaze from spreading to neighboring trailers. By 5:30 a.m. the fire was out. Its cause is under investigation by the state fire marshal.

Schnell was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment of severe burns. Hospital officials would not release information about his condition Monday. Rich said he lost everything in the fire. Even the change at the bottom of a piggy bank was charred beyond recognition. But neighbors and his boss have come to his aid. "I learned real quick who my friends and neighbors are," Rich said.

Co-workers offered to cover his shift as the morning cook at the Reno Casino. His family came by and helped sift through the charred remains of the trailer home for anything salvageable. His boss, Nicole Crisafulli, bought him clothes and put him up at the Aspen Motel. "Kenny will do anything for anybody," Crisafulli said. "He would do the same for me. He literally has nothing left."

While watching the trailer burn, Tolliver said the heat was overwhelming and he could hear Schnell's oxygen bottles exploding inside the trailer. The searing heat cracked the windows in Tolliver's own trailer next door, and melted the headlight covers, grill and hood ornament on his car, which was parked in front.

"The East Missoula fire department was very good," Crisafulli said. "If it was not for them the neighbors would have burned."

On Monday, hiding his singed hair beneath a ball cap, Rich said he was starting to put his life back together. First up is figuring out how to remove the remains of the burned trailer and find a new one to take its place. He said friends and neighbors were helping him out.

"It's a small community and everyone looks out for each other," Crisafulli said.