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Quick response by volunteers at Pavilion fire saves a woman's life, her home and her pets

By Howard B. Owens

Quick work by volunteer firefighters responding to an initially vague report of a fire in Pavilion helped save a woman's life, save her two dogs and save most of her house, even though flames were shooting 25 feet in the air when firefighters first arrived.

Dispatchers initially received a call of flames or a red glow in the area of Route 19 at 11:36 p.m.

The alarm was sounded for the Pavilion Fire Department and volunteers roused from their beds started heading toward the fire hall, said Chief Paul Dougherty.

"The initial report put the fire at or near one of our member's homes, so he was able to tell us immediately it wasn't there," Dougherty said. "On his way to the station he saw where it was coming from and he was able to direct us to the location."

The fire was at 6918 Hutchinson St., a three-store Victorian built in 1860 and owned by Celia Milroy.

Milroy was home alone, sleeping, at the time the fire started. It started, apparently, her back porch.

Dougherty and another firefighter were first on scene and were advised by a Time Warner employee who was on his way to work that there might still be a person in the house.

The firefighters forced their way into the residence and broke through a glass window on the door and yelled to rouse Milroy.

She was initially skeptical that her house was on fire and wasn't in a particular hurry to leave, Dougherty said.

"It wasn't that she was scared," Dougherty said. "She was just taking her time. 'Let me get my shoes on.' 'Lady we don't have time for that.' We asked her if he had a key to the door because we'd knocked the glass out to yell into her, and we said, 'Lady, come on, do you have the key to this door? Can you open this door for us?" 'Just a minute. Just a minute.'" Dougherty chuckles recalling the conversation. "'We're in a bit of a hurry here, ma'am.' "

When she got out on the side porch and saw the flames, Dougherty said, that's when she was convinced her house was on fire.

Using Pavilion's foam truck and mutual aid from Le Roy, Bethany, York and Wyoming, firefighters were able to act quickly and save the house.

The enclosed back porch was heavily damaged, but most of the worse damage to the back half of the house is from smoke and water, Dougherty said. The front half of the house wasn't damaged at all.

Interior firefighters knocked the fire back pretty quickly, but with older homes and what is known as "balloon construction" the biggest danger is unseen flames climbing up the outside walls and into the attic.

"The quicker we could get in attic and make sure it wasn't traveling up there, the better," Dougherty said.

The roof was vented, which drew the flames up through the hole, giving firefighters an opportunity to effectively fight it before it advanced toward the front of the house.

"It was a good save," Dougherty said.

Also saved were two little dogs. The first was found quickly by firefighters and returned to Milroy safely, but the second one couldn't be located.

About 30 minutes into the fire fight, the small dog came charging out the back door, running over smoldering, hot timber, and was scooped up by a neighbor and given to a Pavilion firefighter, who carried the little guy to Mrs. Milroy, sitting with a neighbor across the street.

At least two firefighters were taken to UMMC for medical treatment, including one with heat exhaustion.

Interior firefighters told us it was pretty darn hot in the house on a hot night and several firefighters looked pretty beat when they first came out of the structure.

Also assisting at the scene were Le Roy Ambulance, City of Batavia's Fast Team, the Pavilion Auxiliary and the Sheriff's Office.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined and Dougherty said it was too early to even take a guess at it.

UPDATE 9 a.m.: The cause of the fire has been determined to be "misuse of electrical equipment," according to a Sheriff's Office press release. Also, we didn't have a complete list of responding fire companies earlier. Also responding to the scene, Stafford and Perry. Bergen filled in at Le Roy's hall.

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