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Fire heroes

  • ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS The remains left over following a three-story house fire Saturday on Valley Street (SR209) are hard to ignore as you drive through New Philadelphia. Looking at the high debris pile are St. Clair elementary students…
    ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS The remains left over following a three-story house fire Saturday on Valley Street (SR209) are hard to ignore as you drive through New Philadelphia. Looking at the high debris pile are St. Clair elementary students getting off a bus. The students' bus stop, which was originally located in front of the destroyed home prior to the blaze, was moved across the street for safety reasons.
Published October 25. 2011 05:01PM

Because of its complete destruction, the cause of Saturday night's three-story house fire at 220 Valley St. in New Philadelphia has been ruled as undetermined by state police.

Trooper Michael Yeity, state police fire marshal, Troop L Headquarters, Reading, concluded that neither arson nor foul play are suspected. Yeity and other fire officials pointed out the building had to be razed immediately following the blaze, because of extensive damage to the structure and weakness to the roof and walls.

Incident commander Ed Slane, New Philadelphia assistant fire chief and former state police trooper, agreed with Yeity's determination.

"It appears to be accidental," added Slane.

After the blaze, Slane said 134 guns, which were all legal, were found in the remains of the fire. He said the blaze was difficult to battle because of the amount of various items found inside the house. Crews eventually got the flames under control about 3 a.m., and the home was razed at around 5 a.m.

Firefighters and police created a human chain to remove hundreds of pounds of items from the debris pile, including rifles, pistols, water pistols, knives, silverware, stamps, newspapers, photo slides, safes, ammunition, coins and cash bills.

On Sunday, state police investigators and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined there was no wrongdoing involving the firearms. Both state police and New Philadelphia Police stressed that no charges will be filed and there was no criminal activity regarding the firearms and stash of coins kept in the house.

The investigation was then turned back over to New Philadelphia police and fire personnel. The home's resident, John Marcavage, 51, who was flown to a burn center, remains hospitalized after suffering severe burns over most of his body. Marcavage's nephew, Jeff Raczka, who spent a number of hours Monday investigating and searching the high debris pile for important items before it rained, said Marcavage was in stable condition.

In addition to hundreds of firefighters, Red Cross and other emergency personnel who responded to the fire, there were four more heroes.

"In the 19 years I've lived next to Marcavage, I've never seen him," said neighbor Dave Heffner. That didn't stop Heffner and three other nearby neighbors from coming to the rescue during the fire.

While putting her dog out on her porch around 11:15 p.m. Saturday night, neighbor Dorothy Thorne noticed smoke billowing out of 220 Valley St. She then yelled for her husband, Mark, and called 911. Mark Thorne, a past 23-year volunteer firefighter with the Liberty Fire Company in Schuylkill Haven and 21-year veteran with the United States Army, was quick to respond as he ran out of his house toward the home.

Dorothy called her adjacent neighbor, Lisa Heffner, on the phone to alert them of the fire. Lisa alerted her husband, Dave, who looked out his front door to see Mark running to the fire.

Dave Heffner quickly followed.

After hearing the fire whistle, neighbor John Beitler, and Dave Heffner's daughter Jess, 14, also looked outside and noticed the smoke. All four of them, now standing outside the burning home, weren't sure if anyone was home. After hearing a doglike noise coming from inside the home, Thorne and Heffner tried kicking in the thick door.

"The door was hard to kick in due to added locks and possibly a chain lock on the door," Heffner explained. Thorne, whose longtime nickname at the firehouse is "Rip," physically ripped the door off it is hinges to get inside.

"They first tried kicking in the door," said Jess Heffner. "Then Mark actually ripped the door off its hinges."

After removing the door, both Heffner and Thorne were overwhelmed with heavy smoke and immediately noticed Marcavage lying unconscious on the floor just inside the door. They also noticed growing flames in the center and center-back of the home. Thinking fast, they pulled Marcavage out of the heavy smoke and fire-filled home and onto the front porch. Heffner noted one of his shoes was still smoldering. He added that some of Marcavage's skin came off his arm when he pulled him outside.

After checking if Marcavage had a pulse or was breathing, Thorne, who is CPR trained, with the help of Heffner, carried through with compressions and breathing until paramedics arrived. Noticing dripping fire from the porch, they decided to get Marcavage off the porch and in a safer location. All three men, who yelled for more assistance, were helped by two responding paramedics, as well as Heffner's daughter, and carefully lifted Marcavage onto a flatboard and then onto a stretcher.

Tom Rowan, New Philadelphia resident, noted that all of the fire companies responded quickly and did a great job preventing the fire from spreading to other homes.

Slane pointed out that Marcavage lived alone and kept to himself.

"The man lives a quiet life," he added. "That's why no one knew him."

"In addition to all the emergency responders, these four modest individuals were real heroes for risking their lives to save the life of a person they've never met," added Dorothy Thorne.

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