Blizzard kept Portsmouth rescue workers busy

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PORTSMOUTH — Four people escaped from a two-family Island Park house that had caught fire during the height of the blizzard Friday night.

Deputy Chief Michael P. O’Brien said the home suffered extensive damage because the poor road conditions slowed firefighters’ response time.

Firefighters received a 911 call of a fire at 88 Cove St. at 11:29 p.m., after most of the town had lost power.

“The investigation is going, but it appears the fire started on the outside of the structure from a generator and spread to the house. Once it got inside the wall, it spread to the attic,” he said.

Seven people were in the house at the time. “The first calls came from neighbors, and the downstairs residents alerted the residents on the second floor,” said Deputy Chief O’Brien.

The four second-floor occupants — a man, woman and two chidlren — were unable to get outside their door, however, as the fire was underneath the stairway.

“They had to jump out of a window onto an overhanging roof and from there they jumped to the ground below,” he said.

Everyone got out on their own safely, he said, but the house “was heavily damaged.” Because of the poor road conditions, it took firefighter about 12 minutes to arrive on the scene, he said, adding that the normal response time is about four to five minutes. It took firefighters about two and a half hours to extinguish the blaze.

Although no one was seriously hurt, a teenage boy received a minor leg injury and two firefighters were treated for falls caused by the icy conditions.

Car hits plow truck

The other significant call that came in during the storm involved an elderly female who was seriously injured when the car in which she was a passenger collided with the back of a snowplow around 2:51 p.m. Sunday.

Firefighters had to use the jaws of life to extricate the woman, who was trapped in the car in front of 2121 West Main Road.

Deputy Chief O’Brien said the driver was trying to pass a snowplow when the vehicle ran into the rear of the truck. The woman suffered “a significant leg injury” and was transported to Newport Hospital by Middletown rescue workers, he said.

56 calls during storm

The Portsmouth Fire Department responded to 56 emergency calls during the blizzard. Normally, the department averages about eight and a half calls every 24 hours, said Deputy Chief O’Brien.

In addition to the house fire in Island Park, firefighters responded to three building fires in other communities, multiple outside fires (mostly trees and telephone poles that caught fire due to electrical issues), several medical emergencies and carbon monoxide incidents. Deputy Chief O’Brien said most of the latter incidents were caused by generators being run too close to homes.

In addition, crews also responded to several homes to assist oxygen-dependent residents with their portable oxygen units and provided others transportation to the shelter in Middletown.

Rescue workers are also bracing for any possible damage in the storm’s aftermath. Pipes that were frozen over the weekend are now beginning to thaw, which could cause damage.

“I think today is going to be the high-water mark,” he said Monday afternoon, adding, “We’re also concerned about the weight of the snow on any flat roofs.”

Nor'easter Nemo

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.