Passers-by make dramatic rescue from burning Bellingham auto-body shop

Quick thinking by two passers-by saved a woman trapped in a fire at a north Bellingham body shop about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30.

One minor injury was reported in the fire, which started in a car in the work bay of No. 1 Automotive Body Repair, 4108 Hannegan Road, said Assistant Chief Bill Hewett of the Bellingham Fire Department.

Hewett said a woman was trapped in a second-story break room above the repair bays as employees fought the rapidly growing flames with fire extinguishers.

“She tried to go down the stairs, but there was too much smoke and heat,” Hewett said. He said the woman used a chair to smash a small window and cry for help. Two passers-by stopped, and one person drove his SUV alongside the building, allowing them to help the woman to scramble onto the vehicle’s roof. The names of the woman and her rescuers were unavailable Sunday.

“It was an amazing coordinated rescue by some good Samaritans, using the SUV as a ladder like that,” Hewett said. “It was a phenomenal job on their part. Quick thinking.”

Meanwhile, Engine 6’s crew arrived and pulled a hoseline to attack the fire from the open bay door. When additional engine companies arrived, firefighters searched the building but found no one else inside.

Hewett said there were reports of victims trapped in the early chaos of the incident, but that the woman was the only other person left inside the shop on northeast corner of East Bakerview and Hannegan.

Flames were extinguished and firefighters were in “overhaul mode,” looking for fire extension, within 15 minutes, Hewett said. Firefighters ventilated the building using heavy-duty fans.

A damage estimate was unavailable. Hewett said two cars and the bay area took the brunt of the heat, water and smoke damage, but that the building remained structurally sound.

More than 20 firefighters assisted at the scene, including five engine companies and a ladder truck, a medic unit, an EMS supervisor and a battalion chief.

Cause of the fire remained under investigation, but it appears to have started in one of the cars being repaired, Hewett said. He said one employee who had been using fire extinguishers to combat the flames was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph hospital for treatment of minor burns and possible respiratory distress.

“All around, it was a good save by a couple of civilians and a good stop by our guys,” Hewett said.