Maine Fire Chief's Condition Improves

EASTBROOK, Maine -- Relatives of Frederick "Rick" McNeil, the local fire chief who was critically injured early Saturday morning when his trailer caught fire, are expressing relief with Monday's news that his condition is improving.

It helps lessen the pain of the death in the fire of McNeil's son, 13-year-old Thomas "Tommy" McNeil, knowing that his father is expected to recover, they said.

"He has improved immensely," Paul Edgerly, McNeil's half brother, said Monday. "They expect him to make a full recovery."

Edgerly rescued McNeil, 35, from the trailer around 5 a.m. Saturday when he awoke to the smell of smoke and saw fire across the street, Edgerly said Monday.

Edgerly, 50, was visibly shaken Saturday as he spoke to a reporter about the experience of dragging McNeil from the trailer and being unable to get to the room in the trailer where his nephew was sleeping. He said at the time that he was not sure whether his half brother would live.

McNeil was alert and talking immediately after being rescued, according to his family, but the extent of his injuries turned out to be more serious than initially believed. He was taken Saturday to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he has been kept sedated and unconscious and remains in critical condition, they said.

On Monday, relatives said they had heard from McNeil's nurse that his condition had improved. McNeil suffered burns to his face, arms and back, they said, but his lungs look greatly improved compared to their condition two days ago.

"That changed my mood immensely," Edgerly said of the news.

McNeil could be back home within three to six weeks, Edgerly said the nurse told the family.

The family will wait until McNeil is brought out of his medically induced coma to schedule a memorial service for Tommy, who was a sixth-grader at the local Cave Hill School, according to Edgerly. He said it would be difficult to tell McNeil when he wakes up that his son died in the fire.

"He was always grinning and smiling," Edgerly said of his nephew.

Tommy was a fan of Spider-Man and Harry Potter, he said, but his real love was anything to do with the "Star Wars" movies.

"He could watch ??????Star Wars' over and over," the uncle said.

Jim Boothby, superintendent of Union 92, said Monday that administrators plan to have counselors at Cave Hill School next week when pupils and staff return from vacation. Cave Hill School has about 85 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade, he said.

"We're putting together a response team," Boothby said. "There will be a number of students that will be impacted [by Tommy's death]. I don't think there's anybody in the community that hasn't been touched by this."

Edgerly said the experience has been tough on McNeil's family, many of whom live close to McNeil's property on Abbott Lane. He thanked members of the fire departments of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock and Waltham who fought the blaze, and to pastor Jim Flye of the local Baptist church, who has helped comfort his and McNeil's mother, Doris McNeil, about the tragedy. Tommy's 14-year-old brother, Richard, was spending the night next door at his grandmother's house when the fire occurred, according to relatives.

Edgerly said the larger community also has been helpful by raising money to help McNeil.

"The public support has been unbelievable," he said.

A planned benefit breakfast for McNeil has had its scheduled time changed to 6 a.m. Sunday, May 4, at the Eastbrook Community Building, according to Adam Church, a nephew of McNeil's who is helping to raise donations for his uncle.

Members of McNeil's family have declined to comment about possible causes of the fire.

It was unclear Monday whether state officials had found anything of interest in their investigation of the fire, such as how it started or whether they think it might be suspicious. Detectives with Maine State Police and investigators with the State Fire Marshal's Office were at the scene over the weekend interviewing neighbors and examining the charred remains of McNeil's trailer.

Attempts Sunday and Monday to contact state officials who could comment on the fire were unsuccessful.

BDN writer Aimee Dolloff contributed to this report.

Republished with permission of The Bangor Daily News.

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