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Chatham man dies from his injuries in apartment blaze

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    Lance Wheeler/For Columbia-Greene Media A burn victim was transported by helicopter to Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit following a fire in Chatham.
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    Lance Wheeler/for Columbia-Greene Media Fire crews outside the Chatham Manor Apartments at 18 School St.
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    Lance Wheeler/For Columbia-Greene Media First responders on the scene of a fire in Chatham on Sunday.
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    Lance Wheeler/For Columbia-Greene Media Residents sit outside while first responders are on the scene.
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    Lance Wheeler/For Columbia-Greene Media First responders gather outside the building Sunday morning.
May 14, 2018 06:01 pm

CHATHAM — A disabled man who was treated for significant burns following a fire in his Chatham Manor Apartments home Sunday has died, fire officials said.

Dennis O’Mara, 71, of Chatham, died in the burn unit of Westchester Medical Center at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, according to a statement from the Chatham Fire Department.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation Monday, Chatham Assistant Fire Chief Eric Barnes said.

The Chatham Fire Department was dispatched to the fire, which broke out in a first-floor apartment of the Chatham Manor Apartments at 18 School St. on Sunday at 8:26 a.m.

The fire started in a hallway near the bedroom of apartment No. 7, Barnes said.

Search crews rescued O’Mara, who was a wheelchair user and trapped in the apartment, according to the Chatham Fire Department.

O’Mara suffered significant burns over most of his body.

“When they [fire crews] pulled him out of the building, he was unconscious,” Barnes said Sunday. “He definitely inhaled smoke and toxins.”

O’Mara was treated by the Chatham Rescue Squad and then taken to a landing zone at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. He was airlifted to Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit, Barnes said. O’Mara was in critical, but stable, condition Sunday afternoon, but later succumbed to his injuries.

“The fire department would like to send their condolences to the family of Mr. O’Mara,” Barnes said.

The School Street complex has 32 apartments for senior and disabled residents. Thirty-one of the 32 were occupied, Barnes said.

Three tenants were rescued and 28 others were able to escape the fire, Barnes said, adding swift action by firefighters saved lives and property.

“Although one victim unfortunately succumbed to his injuries, the actions of the volunteer firefighters that responded to this fire on Mother’s Day and ran into this burning building potentially saved multiple lives,” Barnes said.

Two women were trapped in their apartments, close to the apartment where the fire broke out, Barnes said. They were treated for minor smoke inhalation.

A third person was rescued, but didn’t need to be transported to a hospital, according to the Chatham Fire Department.

Several pets were rescued from numerous apartments by firefighters. No injuries to firefighters were reported, according to police.

The fire was put out by 8:45 a.m. Sunday and it was contained to the one apartment, Barnes said. Seven other apartments in the same wing received significant heat and smoke damage.

“Smoke and heat spread throughout the whole wing,” Barnes said.

The eight affected apartments are uninhabitable, but salvageable, Barnes said. The tenants were temporarily moved out of the building for their safety.

“The Chatham Manor building management is working to clean those apartments and work with residents to reoccupy their apartments,” Barnes said. “They are working to get residents back in there as soon as possible.”

The building’s fire alarm system, which connects each apartment, was working properly, and fire safety doors confined the flames to a small section of the building, Barnes said.

“The alarm system provided an early notification so that people were able to evacuate the building quickly, which potentially saved several lives considering the conditions and circumstances we found upon arrival,” Barnes said.

Firefighters left the scene 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Chatham Fire Department, Columbia County Cause and Origin Team and the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control are investigating the fire.

The Chatham Fire Department and the Chatham Rescue Squad were assisted by the Ghent Volunteer and East Chatham fire companies, the Valatie and Niverville fire departments, the Columbia County Fire Coordinator’s Office, the Columbia County Emergency Management Office, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and Columbia County 911.

“The chiefs of Chatham Fire Department can’t stress enough how thankful they are to the volunteers that do risk their lives and all the other departments that provided aid,” Barnes said.

To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500 or send an email to, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.