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Mayday call: Firefighter fell through a floor and got caught in plumbing

Bellingham Fire crews are shown at the Christmas Day fire in the Rowan Grove Apartments on 20th Street in the Happy Valley neighborhood of Bellingham.
Bellingham Fire crews are shown at the Christmas Day fire in the Rowan Grove Apartments on 20th Street in the Happy Valley neighborhood of Bellingham. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A Bellingham firefighter escaped injury when he fell through a floor, became entangled in plumbing and a mayday emergency was called during a Christmas Day fire, officials said Wednesday.

“It was resolved very quickly,” said Assistant Chief Bill Hewett of the Bellingham Fire Department. “It went just like we’ve trained for. That’s what you hope for.”

Hewett said the cause of Monday’s fire in the Happy Valley neighborhood remained under investigation.

He said the fire started in the floor of second-story living room, which is the middle floor of a three-story townhome-style apartment. A garage is on the first floor and bedrooms are on the third floor.

A passer-by reported flames coming from siding on the townhome about 12:25 p.m. Monday at the Rowan Grove Apartments, 925 20th Street, Hewett said.

Firefighters first sprayed water from the outside, the went around back to the first-floor entry to see if the flames had spread and search for victims, Hewett said. Both residents were away for the holiday, he said.

As firefighters ascended the garage stairs and entered the smoky second-story living room, one firefighter fell through the floor, which had been weakened by fire, Hewett said. Hewett said the firefighter was stuck and dangled from plumbing in the garage ceiling.

It made for a few tense moments.

Assistant Chief Bill Hewett, Bellingham Fire Department

A mayday was called over the radio and additional crews quickly freed the trapped firefighter and brought him outside for a medical examination. A second alarm was called immediately, standard procedure in a mayday situation, Hewett said.

That second alarm was canceled quickly because the fire was brought under control and the firefighter didn’t require treatment, Hewett said.

Hewett praised the fire crews for the quick rescue of their colleague. He said a mayday situation is rare in the fire service, and he couldn’t recall a recent mayday in Bellingham.

“It made for a few tense moments,” Hewett said. “Everybody stayed calm and moved with a purpose.”

Fire damage was limited to the floor and a wall, but the unit suffered extensive smoke damage and is uninhabitable, Hewett said. He said one resident is staying with friends and the other is still away for the holidays.

A neighboring apartment suffered minor smoke damage that was cleared with ventilation, Hewett said. A damage estimate was unavailable.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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