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Rumford Firefighter Injured
Posted On: Aug 27, 2008

MEXICO, Maine -- Bill Johnston was lifeless when fellow firefighters dug him from the debris of a collapsed roof and carried him to a waiting ambulance.

The Rumford firefighter was helping to fight an early-morning fire in a three-story apartment building Saturday on Holman Avenue when the roof collapsed.

Johnston was unresponsive and had no pulse when firefighters found him and carried him down three flights of stairs, said Rumford fire Lt. Rob Dixon.

"Med-Care brought him back in their ambulance, with the assistance of former Rumford Hospital physician assistant David Saphier," Dixon said.

Because a medical helicopter was unavailable, Med-Care Ambulance rushed Johnston, estimated to be in his late 40s, to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

According to a CMMC nursing supervisor, Johnston was in good condition Saturday evening.

Med-Care Director Dean Milligan said he believed Johnston, who suffered back injuries when he was crushed, would be hospitalized overnight for observation.

"Outside of Bill being temporarily dead, things went very well," Dixon said of the fire at 14 Holman Ave., which began sometime between midnight and 1 a.m.

Dixon said he and two other on-duty Rumford firefighters arrived on the scene and saw that the fire had gone through the roof.

"When a fire's in the ceiling, you don't dare put anyone in because, on arrival, when you see fire through the roof, you try to kill it from the outside," Dixon said.

He said he believed Johnston entered the building and the roof collapsed on him. "I don't know how many hundreds or thousands of pounds it was, but it just knocks the daylights out of you."

Johnston was completely covered in debris, but firefighters were able to find him because the collapse activated his life-safety device and it was making noises.

His firefighting partner, Chris Moretto, yelled for help.

"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Man down on the third floor!"

Rumford fire Deputy Chief Chris Bryant, Rumford firefighter Ed Carey and Mexico firefighter Allen Chartier stopped what they were doing, donned breathing gear and rushed to help.

"Those guys, Chris, Ed and Allen, they definitely deserve notice. They did a hell of a job," Dixon said.

Fire officials did not know how many occupants were displaced from the three apartments in the building or whether any were injured. State fire investigator Chris Stanford was on scene Saturday due to the workplace injury.

"I don't know why we don't have a dead firefighter after this, but I guess luck was on our side this morning," Milligan said. "It's not very often that a roof collapses and pins someone and they live. People in the River Valley area could very well have been going to a firefighter funeral this week."

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