ALBANY — Four Chatham firefighters were honored Saturday for their bravery in rescuing several people from a burning apartment complex for seniors and people with disabilities last year on Mother’s Day.
Four Chatham firefighters were honored by the American Legion, Department of New York District 3, as the District 3 Firefighting Unit of the Year. The firefighters, Chief Paul Rideout, Assistant Chief Eric Barnes, Alex Horst and Greg Horst, were awarded certificates of distinction, which were presented by Commander Gary Schacher, and Law and Order Committee Chairman Jeffrey French. The ceremony was held at the Joseph E. Zaloga Post No. 1520 in Albany.
“Although we are very honored to receive this award, this was a team effort,” Rideout said. “I am extremely proud of all our firefighters. I thank all of our volunteers that respond every time the alarm rings.”
The fatal fire occurred on May 13. Chatham Fire Department was dispatched to the blaze, which broke out in a first-floor apartment of the Chatham Manor Apartments at 18 School St. at 8:26 a.m.
The fire started in a hallway near the bedroom of apartment No. 7. Smoke and heat quickly spread throughout the entire wing.
Three tenants were rescued and 28 others were able to escape the fire. The School Street complex has 32 apartments for senior and disabled residents. Thirty-one of the 32 were occupied.
Rideout and Barnes set a hose line into the apartment to extinguish heavy fire and attempt to rescue trapped victims. Firefighters Alex Horst and Greg Horst found and rescued a man in a wheelchair. Firefighters went on to save two more victims trapped by heavy smoke.
The man in the wheelchair, Dennis O’Mara, 71, of Chatham, suffered significant burns over most of his body, and later died in the burn unit of Westchester Medical Center at 9:30 p.m.
“When they [fire crews] pulled him out of the building, he was unconscious,” Barnes said May 13. “He inhaled smoke and toxins.”
The fire was put out by 8:45 a.m., and it was contained to the one apartment. Seven other apartments in the same wing received significant heat and smoke damage.
Several lives were saved and eight apartments that were damaged in the fire were able to be repaired.
“The residents of the village of Chatham are very lucky to have such a dedicated and well-trained group of volunteers that risk their lives all while leaving their own families home,” Howe said. “This group of firefighters went above and beyond this day, but it is what they and all of our volunteers do for the better of our communities’ every day.”