Md. fire official's father rescued from burning house

By Pam Rigaux
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK COUNTY, Md. — A basement fire trapped the father of Frederick County's chief fire mars hal in his house Sunday afternoon.

Two passers-by called 911 and opened windows to let out smoke before firefighters rescued Joseph McNeal, father of Marc McNeal, Division of Fire and Rescue Services chief fire marshal.

Joseph McNeal lives at 5031 Old National Pike, on the east side of the Braddock ridge, with his wife, daughter and his dog, Charlie. Only the dog and McNeal were home when an electrical outlet in the basement ignited wood paneling and started a fire about 1 p.m., authorities said.

The smoke was thick when firefighters arrived.

"We had no visibility whatsoever inside the house," said Lt. Billy Smith, president of the Braddock Heights Volunteer Fire Company. "We were just working on feel."

Relatives said McNeal was trapped inside, but no one knew which room he was in, Smith said.

"He was on the main floor," said Lt. Seth Edwards, a career firefighter who was stationed at Braddock Heights. "He called out once and I heard him."

Firefighters stayed within range of each other and groped their way to a bathroom, where they found McNeal in a power wheelchair, Edwards said.

They lifted McNeal out of the chair and carried him to the rear of the house.

"It timed out well," Edwards said.

The firefighters turned McNeal over to an ambulance crew. He was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital then transferred to a hospital in Washington or Baltimore for treatment of smoke inhalation, Marc McNeal said.

"I think he's fine."

Marc McNeal didn't know his parents' house was on fire until he was dispatched and pulled up next to the house, he said.

"It was a shock. I didn't know who was in the house."

Dwayne Ausherman, deputy chief of Independent Hose Co. and the incident commander, reassured McNeal that his father was outside, safe and conscious, and no one else was inside the house.

"I don't know if Charlie was inside," McNeal said.

Charlie was rescued by James Berry, who had been returning a keg to the nearby liquor store when he saw the smoke, Berry said.

He called 911, then ran to the back of the house and opened the door.

Charlie was waiting there, Berry said. The brown poodle came outside and sat down as if waiting for McNeal.

Berry and his friend David Beene knew a man was trapped inside. They wanted to go in, but the basement door was hot, Berry said. They opened the windows on the main floor.

"We cranked all the smoke out," Berry said. Fire officials later told him that might have helped keep Joseph McNeal alive.

Copyright 2009 The Frederick News-Post

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