Boy uses fire safety studies to save family in Maine

He crawled beneath smoke to his mother's room, where he woke her and his sister

By David Hench
The Portland Press Herald

GORHAM, Maine — A 4-year-old boy who studied fire safety at his day-care center a few weeks ago used what he learned to help his family escape safely from a blaze in their basement apartment Monday.

Joseph Lamoin, who will turn 5 this month, woke at 5 a.m. to the smell and sight of smoke and did as he was taught.

He crawled, beneath the smoke, to his mother's room, where he woke her and his 4-year-old sister.

The three crawled up the stairs of the house at 136 Day Road to where Joseph's grandmother was sleeping, and everyone got out of the home safely, said Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre.

When firefighters arrived, they found flames coming from the basement windows.

They spent the next 40 minutes bringing the fire under control.

The apartment had working smoke detectors, which were sounding when police arrived, Lefebvre said.

The fire caused about $20,000 in damage to the basement apartment, and the main floor of the single-story ranch had smoke damage, Lefebvre said.

The fire appeared to have been caused by an aquarium heater, which was warming a tank where the family kept a pet snake, Lefebvre said.

Firefighters did not find the snake, a python.

Danielle Hicks said she was proud that her son used the fire safety skills he learned from firefighters during a special program at his day-care center.

''He saved all of us,'' she said.

''He's our hero,'' said Hicks' sister-in-law, Chelsea Vetterline.

Joseph was excited about the fire safety training and kept talking about it in the days afterward, Lefebvre said.

''It's nice to see the students pay attention and put what they're taught into action,'' he said.

The house at the corner of Day and Brackett roads is owned by Pauline Smith, Joseph's grandmother, who lives upstairs.

Later Monday, the main floor reeked of smoke, boards covered basement windows, and burned toys and other belongings lay in the yard, where they had been dumped after being pulled smoldering from the apartment.

Smith, Hicks and Hicks' children are staying with relatives. The American Red Cross of Southern Maine is helping them replace necessities.

''When they got outside, they were all just wearing the clothes on their back and what they were sleeping in. They didn't even have shoes on,'' said Mike Mason, regional director of emergency services for the local Red Cross chapter.

Mason said the agency provides displaced fire victims with debit cards that allow them to pay for necessities like medication, eyeglasses, food, clothing and shelter.

Lefebvre said he hopes to get a chance in the near future to recognize Joseph and his day-care center for their good work.

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