Health Check: Fall River firefighters describe harrowing escape

Jeff Mello

The call came in just after midnight on March 7. A house was on fire on Plymouth Avenue in Fall River.

"As we're en route they said there was a person trapped on the third floor," said firefighter Jeff Mello.

By the time Mello, Lt. Paul Machado, and Robert Forand arrived, the house was engulfed in flames. Machado and Mello went in first, making it all the way to the third floor where a person was said to be trapped.

By that time, they were low on air.

"We opened the door. We got 3 feet in, 4 feet in on our knees, and the heat was just very intense," Mello said.

They found no one.

"It turned out that the reported missing, trapped person was out," Machado said.

They headed back down.

"There was nothing but fire," Mello said.

The third member of their team was not far from them, but then a back addition collapsed.

"And that forced all the fire in the room on us. Bobby managed to dive through the wall of flames and into the staircase and roll down. We couldn't make it," Machado said.

They had busted open a second-floor window.

"Knew it was going to be jump or die," Machado said.

"I pushed him out the window and then I just dove out the window," Mello said.

Mello sustained some pretty severe burns. One on his forearm is still healing.

"Our helmets were singed from the heat that came in," Mello said. "Our jackets were demolished."

"I got some pretty severe second-degree burns," Machado said, "arms, upper arms, shoulder, back."

Both were treated at Rhode Island Hospital's burn center. And while they spent just three days there, both continue to heal physically and emotionally.

And that's the purpose of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors -- to help ease the recovery of people like these two Fall River firefighters while addressing the trauma.

It's not just the firefighters who are in need of healing.

"When we say survivor, we mean the family -- the family and extended family, often. In the fire service, what we hear is they have two families really. They have their fire service family and they have their family. And being off of work and not being able to return to that fire service family is often very difficult," said Amy Acton of the Phoenix Society.

Every year, the Phoenix Society holds a World Burn Congress to address the needs of burn survivors and their loved ones. It's being held in Providence this year through Saturday. Rhode Island Hospital is one of the sponsors.