Fire from unattended cooking appliance displaces three people

First responders revive family pet

BRATTLEBORO — Firefighters carried Brutus, an unconscious 14-year-old dog, from the smoke-filled second floor apartment at 6 Baker St. on the evening of Aug. 15.

Firefighters and medical personnel of Rescue, Inc. revived Brutus - Janice LaMarche and Donald Carleton's family pet - with oxygen.

There were no human injuries, said Brattleboro Fire Capt. Ron Hubbard. LaMarche and Carleton, owners of the building, and residents of its second floor, were not at home when the fire started.

The fire also displaced first-floor resident Tim LaFarr.

Humans can give pets mouth-to-mouth respiration, said Hubbard, but the fire department and Rescue, Inc., both carry oxygen masks designed for pets.

“We understand they're family as much as anyone else,” he said.

Calls of smoke coming from the second floor of the yellow two-story building at the corner of Birge and Baker streets brought firefighters to the scene at 5:30 p.m.

A Brattleboro Fire Department press release listed the fire's cause as an unattended cooking appliance.

In an interview at the scene, Hubbard said the department had completed its investigation, and believe the blaze started on the stovetop.

From there, flames snaked up into the kitchen cabinets and scorched the ceiling, said Hubbard.

Hubbard initiated a second alarm at 5:40 p.m., calling in off-duty and volunteer firefighters. He later said some 20 firefighters responded to the fire.

According to Hubbard, firefighters quickly doused the fire, containing it to the kitchen. After a search turned up no embers, they declared the fire under control at 6:08 p.m.

Due to fire and water damage, the building's electricity was turned off.

In such a densely developed neighborhood, there's always a danger of the fire spreading to nearby buildings, Hubbard explained.

According to a BFD press release, personnel from Rescue, Inc., the Brattleboro Police Department, Brattleboro Public Works, and Green Mountain Power also responded to the scene. Fire departments from Putney, and Hinsdale and Chesterfield, N.H., covered Brattleboro's two fire stations during the blaze.

After the fire

In the post-fire adrenaline rush, emergency personnel and many of the couple's friends and family gathered on the building's lawn and driveway.

Brutus lay on the grass, taking in with tired, blinking eyes, fringed in gray fur, some of the commotion of legs all around him. He stood occasionally to lean against any legs that stopped long enough for him to rest his head. The dog, exhausted, rubbed his sooty muzzle against hands lowered to scratch his ears.

Brutus' four-legged siblings, Daisy and Goober, wore matching coats of soot. Leashed, they followed LaMarche as she paced while speaking on her cell phone.

Carleton needed medical attention, LaMarche told the person on the other end of the line.

Although he hadn't been injured in the fire, the elderly man had other health issues that concerned his family.

Carleton sat in a purple camp chair. He said he and LaMarche have been together for 18 years.

He and Hubbard joked about their days working in construction about 30 years ago.

“See the ugly one there with his hands on his hips?” said Carleton. “He used to be my laborer.”

A relative emerged from the stricken building carrying a cake pan filled with medications. Soot dotted the lids and labels.

Then Carleton's mood shifted. His eyes watered. He worried about where LaMarche, LaFarr, and the dogs would sleep that night.

He called to family members: don't worry, he said; he can drive himself to the VA hospital in White River Junction.

The gathered family members and LaMarche responded with an unequivocal, “No.”

Carleton looked up at Hubbard. The building isn't insured, he said. Insurance companies wouldn't cover it, owing to the building's outdated knob and tube wiring.

“I don't mind telling you I don't have insurance,” said Carleton. “I'll need all the help I can get.”

Knob and tube wiring, typically used in houses built before the 1940s, uses ceramic insulators to run electrical wire along a building's rafters and through its joists.

According to home construction websites, such exposed wiring, if installed correctly, is relatively safe. But it also lacks a ground wire, and often falls prey to unsafe upgrades by amateur home electricians.

Volunteers affiliated with the Vermont and the New Hampshire Upper Valley Region of the American Red Cross arranged for temporary lodging for Carleton, LaMarche, and their pups.

Volunteers also provided financial assistance for food and clothing, and have reached out to LaFarr.

According to a Red Cross press release, trained disaster action teams help find temporary lodging for those displaced by fires and other disasters, connect people with disaster health and mental health services, and refer out for additional resources.

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