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Sebago firefighter struck by lightning while fighting E. Baldwin house fire

September 9, 2006

"I was at the window of the third floor when I saw the flash of lightning," Deputy Chief Greene said. "My crew and I were attacking the fire and I was standing in water. My turnout gear was soaked from the heavy rains and the water we were putting on the flames. When the lightning hit I must have been touching the metal of Baldwin's aerial ladder and got zapped!"

Greene was one of about 60 fire fighters who responded to a lightning-caused house fire in East Baldwin on Saturday that left 11 people homeless. Luckily Greene recovered from his shocking encounter and no one else was injured. The fire was successfully extinguished and the Red Cross put the displaced residents up at a Windham motel.

Lightning starts house fire in East Baldwin

The fire was a direct result of a strong cold front that swept through the Lakes Region bringing with it strong winds, thunderstorms and lightning. The National Weather Service reported hail in Fryeburg, trees down in Windham, Strong, New Vineyard and Farmington. Lightning strikes set homes and barns ablaze in North Yarmouth, Holden, and East Baldwin.

Firefighters atop Standish Fire
Department's tower fight the fire
venting through the roof at 17
School Street in East Baldwin.
Photo by Tara Greene

Lightning struck several times in East Baldwin Saturday afternoon. At 17 School Street there were round burn marks in the grass where lightning bolts had hit, and one bolt hit the roof of the house and set fire to the top floor. The three-story building was home to eleven people in three family groups, and is located across the street from the East Baldwin Fire Station. The fire was reported at 5:00 p.m. and when the Baldwin Fire Department was toned out at 5:02 p.m. Baldwin fire fighters were able to respond with an engine and aerial ladder truck almost immediately. Fire Chief Jeff Douglas sized up the situation and requested assistance from surrounding mutual aid towns. Fire fighters and equipment from Sebago, Standish, Limington, Cornish and Gorham responded and were on the scene within minutes to assist Baldwin. Other neighboring fire departments were then called to provide backup station coverage.

Against pitch-black skies with thunder booming and lightning flashing, torrents of heavy rain deluged the fire scene as fire fighters struggled to set up their equipment and get the fire under control. Standish Fire Department's Tower was erected to allow firefighters to attack the fire in the house's third story while Sebago's Engine 2 laid 1,300 feet of 4" water supply line and began pumping water to Sebago and Baldwin engines on the scene.

Lightning strikes fire fighter

The fire was burning fiercely in the third floor of the house, and once the roof was vented flames shot high into the sky. Nearly sixty fire fighters from the six mutual aid towns aggressively attacked the fire and interior attack teams used Baldwin's aerial ladder and the Standish tower to gain access to the building.

Sebago Deputy Chief Alan Greene (r)
was struck by lightning as he fought
a house fire at 17 School Street in East Baldwin.
He is shown here immediately after
the incident having just returned from the third floor
of the house. Greene was
treated on the scene by Sacopee Rescue and transported
to Bridgton Hospital, where he was released later that evening.
Photo by Allen Crabtree

Sebago Deputy Chief Alan Greene, Sebago Captain Jason Greene and Baldwin fire fighter Carl Dolloff were one of the interior attack teams in the building initially fighting the fire on the third floor trying to bring it under control. It was then that a bolt of lightning hit nearby zapping Deputy Chief Greene and shaking up the others on his team..

Greene and his team quickly exited the building and were brought to a nearby porch where Sacopee Valley EMTs checked them for burns and injuries. Deputy Chief Greene complained of "tingling" in his legs and he was immediately moved into Sacopee Rescue's ambulance for observation. Because of the potentially life-threatening nature of a lightning strike, an emergency call went out for a paramedic to respond to the scene to supplement the EMTs on duty. Greene was then evacuated to Bridgton Hospital for further evaluation, but fortunately he was released later that evening with a clean bill of health. The other two fire fighters were also checked out by Sacopee EMTs and kept under observation for the rest of the call.

The thunderstorm passed quickly through the area and the rain and lightning finally stopped and firefighters aggressively attacked the fire and were able to knock it down in fairly short order, although it took more than two hours before fire fighters were ready to call it completely extinguished. Fire damage was confined to the third story, although there was extensive water and smoke damage throughout the remainder of the building.

Help for the fire victims

Standish Deputy Chief Robbie Caron notified the American Red Cross of the fire and requested that a Disaster Action Team (DAT) be sent to assist the families who were displaced by the fire. Bruce Peters and Carol Brown along with several other Red Cross volunteers responded and set up a processing center in the firehouse for the 11 people displaced by the fire. A Chinese interpreter was called in from Eaton, New Hampshire to assist since most of the members of the families did not speak English.

The Jack Ai, Deng Luo, and Hua Ma families were living in the house with their children and relatives. They are well known in the neighborhood for the Standish and Windham Chinese restaurants where they work. Smoke and water damage made it impossible for them to stay there until things are cleaned up. The Red Cross provides emergency disaster relief for people in need, and put the families up at a motel in Windham for a few days to give them time to get back on their feet.

Chief Douglas gave the families clearance to return to the building to salvage what clothes and personal possessions that they could from the first and second floor. Since the fire, the families have been hard at work starting the clean up.

Last updated September 9, 2006

Copyright © 2006, Allen Crabtree

Published in the Bridgton News