In the darkness and smoke, firefighter Matthew Quinn of Skowhegan’s Rapid Intervention Team came upon a fallen Waterville firefighter.

“I got you. I’m not going to let you go,” Quinn told him, as he carried the injured firefighter out of a burning apartment house.

Waterville firefighter Dan Brown had been trapped under debris. The ceiling on the second floor had collapsed on him. The two-story house was burning. A mayday distress call had gone out moments before.

Quinn didn’t know Brown, but that didn’t matter.

“I grabbed Dan and I gave him a bear hug. We’re at the top of the stairs,” Quinn recounted in an interview. “We’re face to face and I started talking to him. Honestly, it’s kind of foolish, but I introduced myself. I’m like, ‘Hey, it’s Matt, I’m a Skowhegan firefighter. What’s your name?’ He said, ‘My name’s Dan,’ and at that point I didn’t know who it was.

“On the way down I just started talking to him. I said, ‘Listen bud, it’s just you and me. We’re on our way out. It’s going to be all right. I got you and I’m not going to let you go.’ ”

Brown and six other people were taken to the hospital the morning of Feb. 1. The fire at 15 Summer St. in Waterville drew dozens of firefighters from several towns as tenants of the burning apartment building scrambled to get out, with two tenants needing to be rescued.

Quinn was one of five members of the Skowhegan Fire Department’s Rapid Intervention Team. Other team members that morning in Waterville were Capt. Mike Savage and firefighters Devin Provencal, Ty Strout and Josh Corson.

The team was honored Tuesday with a proclamation for bravery by the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen.

Brown suffered a dislocated shoulder. Brown’s wife, Amanda, said in a phone call later that day that her husband was “doing exceptionally well” and would follow up with his doctor, and imaging tests will be done.

“He is truly thankful for all the Waterville firefighters who were trying to dig him out, and the Skowhegan Fire Department did go in – the RIT Team – and carried him out,” Amanda Brown said. “I’m just thankful they have that team. I am truly thankful for everyone in that fire.”

Brown recounted during his rescue how Quinn grabbed him in a bear hug – mask to mask – and told him not to worry.

And Brown added a story detail that Quinn had left out — probably to avoid being kidded about it.

“I got up and for whatever reason I wasn’t able to walk real well, so I think it was Matt, from Skowhegan, grabbed ahold of me and he told me, ‘My name is Luke Skywalker and I’m here to rescue you,’ and I kind of laughed at that, thought that was kind of funny,” Brown said. “His whole idea was to take my mind off of what was going on, so he thought saying something funny like that would help me, and it definitely did the trick. It was pretty awesome of those guys.”

He said the professionalism of the Skowhegan RIT will long be remembered in Waterville. “They did a good thing for us, and we hope that we can provide the same RIT team that they gave to us,” Brown said.

Brown said he went back to regular duty Thursday for his first full shift since the fire, feeling OK but not 100 percent.

“It’s getting better and better every day,” he said.

Feb. 1, a Wednesday, began early for the Waterville Fire Department and several other companies from across the area. The fire on Summer Street was first called in at 5 a.m. Skowhegan responded immediately as part of an automatic response agreement with Waterville, Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said.

When Waterville firefighters arrived at the scene, they rescued two of the building’s tenants who were on the porch roof because they were unable to escape through the exits. Four other people in the building got out on their own, and six were taken to the hospital suffering from light smoke inhalation.

Smoke detectors were in the building, but the batteries had been removed. The fire was accidental, caused by an electrical problem in the wall of a second-floor living room.

Howard said in emergency situations with mutual aid and automatic response at large fires, various departments are assigned by the local command staff to specific duties – direct action firefighting, ventilation, water supply setup, looking for hot spots, debris removal and rapid intervention. Skowhegan was RIT that morning.

He said Waterville responded to Skowhegan as a Rapid Intervention Team during an apartment house fire Feb. 14 on Main Street.

Team member Ty Strout said when Skowhegan arrived in Waterville, the fire fight was from the exterior — master streams of water on the outside to knock down the blaze. Once firefighters knocked down the bulk of the fire outside, they began to venture inside with personnel and handheld lines of fire hoses.

“As soon as they made their entry onto the second floor, doing the overhaul part for about five minutes, that’s when they hollered a mayday that they had a roof collapse,” Strout said. “That means somebody is in trouble inside.”

At that point all firefighting efforts stopped and the focus was on the rescue. That’s when the Skowhegan team entered the building.

“We went in under the direction of Waterville’s command of where they were in the building,” Strout said. “It was very difficult to see.”

Strout said the RIT crew found a pile of debris from the ceiling on the second floor.

“There was one firefighter under the debris. He wasn’t totally covered. You could still see his head and one of his arms,” Strout said of Brown. “There were two guys on his team with him, but they were not trapped. They were digging too.”

Quinn said Strout and Provencal did the “grunt work” to remove the debris and lift Brown to his feet, get him an air supply mask and begin the descent to the ground floor and outside to the fresh air.

“I felt it was very surreal,” Quinn said of the rescue. “It was hectic, a lot of hollering. It felt like we were there, but it was happening so fast that I just fell back onto my training, doing what instinct was telling us what to do.”

Quinn said he walked Brown in a full bear hug, backwards, down the stairs. Brown was conscious, but not entirely alert, he said.

The Skowhegan firefighters said a fire response like the one Feb. 1 in Waterville solidifies the bond and the brotherhood among firefighters.

“We’ve all done a rescue or helped a civilian, but when it’s one of your own, one of the things you start thinking about is that if this floor gives way, we’re going down with this guy,” Strout said. “We are together. We were proud of each other when we came out, very proud.”

Quinn agreed, noting that “these guys would die for me and I would die for them.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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