Firefighter, cop hurt at Swampscott fire

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(view as multiple pages)By Andrew Hickey
Staff writer

SWAMPSCOTT The intense heat and smoke from a two-alarm Humphrey Street house fire yesterday afternoon sent a police officer and a firefighter to the hospital.

"Put your oven on 600 degrees and stick your head in there," fire Chief Richard Carmody said. "That's what we were getting going in there face-first."

Swampscott Patrolman Candace Doyle was one of the first to arrive at 864 Humphrey St. just before 2 p.m. yesterday. A UPS driver making deliveries in the neighborhood had spotted the smoke and called 911.

Doyle, along with Sgt. Joseph Kable, went into the house to see if anyone was inside, police Chief Ron Madigan said.

"They were concerned, due to the number of cars in the driveway," he said. "It looked like someone was home."

As the pair of officers walked in, Madigan said Doyle was hit by a blast of heat and thick smoke and started struggling to breathe.

"The smoke was so heavy they were immediately repelled," Madigan said.

Doyle was taken to the hospital. It turned out the owners of the home, whose names were unavailable last night, are away on vacation.

Later, Swampscott Firefighter John Chaisson also became overheated while fighting the blaze. He, too, was taken away by ambulance, Carmody said.

Both were treated and released.

Carmody said yesterday's temperature, which hovered in the 90s, and the heat and smoke from the fire were a dangerous combination. The gear firefighters wear is heavy and designed to keep them warm to 8 degrees below zero, Carmody said, which added to the heat.

The effects of the heat were apparent as firefighters emerged from the two-story stucco home, set about 100 feet from the road. They were drenched with sweat. Many shed their weighty gear immediately. Some chose to douse their heads with water or sit in front of a misting fan in futile attempts to cool off. By the time crews started to clear, the lawn was littered with empty plastic water bottles.

Carmody said the fire appears to have started in the front hallway on the first floor of the two-story stucco home. From there, flames crept into the walls and into the attic. Carmody said the cause of the fire is unknown. Fire investigators remained at the house late last night trying to pinpoint what sparked the blaze.

"We hit heavy smoke and heavy heat in there," Carmody said. "It was a very stubborn fire. The guys really took a beating."

Crews cut holes in the roof to ventilate the smoke and heat. The house sustained extensive smoke and water damage and has been deemed unlivable, Carmody said. Firefighters from Swampscott, Marblehead, Salem and Lynn had the flames under control within 30 minutes.

Patrick Dion, the UPS driver, was the first to spot the smoke and call 911.

"I drove by and saw a bunch of smoke coming off the roof," he said. "You could tell something was really wrong."

Once the fire was out, Dion, who was also soaked in sweat, looked at the cluster of firefighters, shook his head and said, "It's too hot for this stuff."