Oxford OPP Inspector Tim Clark presented three Commendations on behalf of OPP Commissioner J.V.N. Hawkes Wednesday afternoon in Tillsonburg in recognition of life-saving action taken on the night of May 24-25.
Two were presented to local firefighters Alden Turcotte and Jason Bezaire.
"Tillsonburg volunteer firefighters from Tillsonburg Fire and Rescue Services responded to a report of a residential fire," said Clark, reading from one of the Commendations. "Believing someone was inside, you and another firefighter entered the building, located the unresponsive woman and carried her to safety, where CPR was initiated. You can take pride in knowing that your efforts helped saved the woman's life."
Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar also presented a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the Town of Tillsonburg and its citizens.
"It's a very simple, but profound thanks," said Molnar. "I think the message, beyond the thanks, is that our role as a responsible community is to ensure you have all the tools available to bring these important people home safely. It's a commitment we make, and we do it while you are being recognized for your valour. Thank you and congratulations."
Inspector Clark also presented a Commendation to Tracey Dinsmore, who lived near the Francis Street structure fire, thanking her for her action in calling 911. Molnar also presented a certificate of appreciation.
"You also ran to the building, woke up one of the tenants, and alerted him to the fire," said Clark. "You then flagged down an officer and advised him you believed a woman was inside."
It was teamwork, said Turcotte, recalling the structure fire on Francis Street, just after midnight in the early morning hours of the 25th.
En route to the fire, they knew there was a possibility of two people upstairs. When they entered the upper apartment, there was heavy smoke.
"The smoke was pretty thick," said Bezaire.
The kitchen, where the fire originated, was not completely engulfed, but there was fire on the ceiling and far wall. After penciling the fire (reducing it, but not extinguishing it for safety reasons) they continued on their primary objective - finding two people.
They entered a hallway, took the first right and went straight into a bedroom where they found an unconscious woman. She was immediately carried out and given CPR by another firefighter outside. Turcotte and Bezaire quickly re-entered the building looking for the child. They searched as much as they could, including the bathroom, but did not find anyone. They learned later the child was not at home that night.
"Just doing our jobs," said Turcotte, an eight-year volunteer firefighter, shrugging off the notion of 'valour' and 'heroism.' "It was a team effort. We got their quick and did what we were trained to do."
"It clicked," nodded Bezaire, with five years in the Fire and Rescue Service, noting they had just had recent search and rescue training.
Three OPP officers were also issued Commendations resulting from the same fire – Shawn Steck, Drew Searles and Mark Cantlon.
"My friend Mandy Kromplak, she should have been recognized also," said Dinsmore. "She (Kromplak) drove by and smelled something funny. So she came back to my place and said, 'hey, come outside for a minute... do you smell that?'"
They both went down the street, and that's when Dinsmore saw a big black puff of smoke coming out of a house vent. She dialed 911.
Dinsmore could see the occupant of the ground floor sleeping on a couch, and did her best to wake him.
"I was pounding on the door."
She learned there was an occupant upstairs who had just come home. They both went upstairs, forced entry, but a "cloud of smoke just came rolling out."
They ran back down the stairs and to the street, where they waited for the OPP. Dinsmore was able to pass on the info to the first officer on the scene, Constable Steck.
"Mandy was the one who initiated the rescue, she first smelled the fire."
Dinsmore also shrugged off any 'hero' thanks.
"I don't see it like that. If that was my house burning, I would hope one of my neighbours or someone driving past would do the same thing. All I could think of was 'is there children, a family?'"
Dinsmore was quick to call the firefighters heroes, however.
"I don't feel like a hero, it was them that did it. They pulled her out. And you think of all those firemen who are going in there, on a daily basis somewhere, it's so scary. I'm no hero – I was just lucky I had my cell phone, and we went running when we did.
"I feel like I did my duty, being part of this community – I helped my neighbour. Yeah, I feel the firefighters are heroes. They're risking their lives every single day. Every time that pager goes off. They don't know what they're going to face. They leave their families to save our families. I totally think they are heroes. Every single firefighter we have in this town, and every other town, those are the heroes."