Victim of Chatham apartment fire dies of injuries

CHATHAM—One of the three people rescued from their burning apartment complex by firefighters has died of his injuries.

Fire broke out at the Chatham Manor Apartments, a two-story building complex containing 32 apartments for elderly and handicapped residents, at 18 School Street in the village, May 13, Mother’s Day, at 8:26 a.m.

On initial attack, Chatham Fire Chief Paul Rideout and Assistant Fire Chief Eric Barnes entered apartment 7 on the first floor which was engulfed in flame and smoke, the assistant chief told The Columbia Paper Monday.

They knocked down the fire and were able to locate an elderly wheelchair-bound man trapped inside the apartment.

Pictured (l-r) are: Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Captain John DeRocha, Chatham Fire Department Asst. Chief Eric Barnes (holding mic), Chatham Fire Department Chief Paul Rideout and Columbia County Fire Coordinator George Keeler (Car 2.) Photo by Lance Wheeler

Crews got the man out, but he was “unconscious” and in “grave condition.” He was treated by the Chatham Rescue Squad, revived and taken to a helicopter landing zone at the Chatham fairgrounds from where the he was flown to the Westchester Medical Center burn unit in Valhalla, said Asst. Chief Barnes. Though the fire victim, identified as Dennis O’Mara, 71, of Chatham was initially listed in critical condition, he succumbed to his extensive injuries at about 9:30 p.m. that night.

Firefighters completed a thorough search of the entire complex and found two other residents, both women, trapped in separate apartments.

The fire was contained to the O’Mara apartment on the first floor within the structure. Heavy smoke damage was sustained by the rest of the complex.

Asst. Chief Barnes explained that the apartment complex is one large building divided into three sections with fire doors between each section. The O’Mara apartment was in the center section. The two women were in apartments on the second floor in the center section above the O’Mara residence. The smoke in the hallways was overwhelming and the women were outfitted with air masks and helped out of the building by firefighters.

Columbia County 911 dispatched the Chatham Fire Department and under automatic mutual aid, the Ghent Fire Department to the fire alarm activation and summoned the Chatham Rescue Squad for a medical alarm at the same location. A Task Force Alarm was struck which brought additional firefighters from Ghent, Valatie, Niverville and East Chatham.

Firefighters were assisted at the scene by the Columbia County Fire Coordinators Office, Columbia County Emergency Management Office (EMO), Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and Columbia County 911.

The EMO worked with Chatham Manor management to relocate and assist all residents. The Village of Chatham Building Inspector was also on the scene.

In total, eight apartments are uninhabitable. One resident was placed in another facility and several others went to stay with their families.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by Chatham Fire Department, Columbia County Cause and Origin Team, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Homeland Security Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

At 6 p.m. May 13, the apartment complex was deemed partially safe to re-enter. All but eight apartments were habitable, and most other residents returned.

Firefighters were back in service at 2:44 p.m.

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