Applauded for “extraordinary actions” to save live

By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
Shaun@TheCitizenChronicle.com

SOUTHBRIDGE — A quartet of Center of Hope executives were recognized by the town for heroic actions as a fire raged on West Street last month.

Southbridge Fire Chief Mark DiFronzo presented Monique Chapdelaine, Cindy Howard, Jim Howard, and Erika Travinski with citizen by-stander awards for their efforts during a “significant fire” at 71 West St. on May 10.

The Citizen Chronicle exclusively brought forward the story of the group’s actions as the three-alarm blaze broke out at 71 West St., breaking news of the civilian efforts to fire officials who were to that point unaware of the quartet’s actions. DiFronzo said that without the quick actions of the quarter, “I’m not sure what the outcome would have been that day.” The plaques presented to the four recognized them for “extraordinary actions that saved the lives” of multiple apartment building occupants.

On May 10, Center of Hope executives were making an impromptu visit to their building at 68 West St., a stop that lasted just 15 minutes. As the group was leaving, they noticed smoke coming from a second-floor apartment across the street and sprang into action, calling 911 and rushing in to help residents.

The fire broke out in the multifamily apartment building at 71 West St. about 12:45 p.m. Travinski and the Howards were wrapping up a visit with Chapdelaine, who runs the day habilitation program at the organization’s 68 West St. property. While the senior staff members were departing the second site, they noticed the smoke was coming from the apartment across the street, but the cause was initially unclear as they questioned whether it was coming from a grill or perhaps something burning on a stove. A scream from the second floor of the apartment building made it clear that it was something a little more dangerous.

“Somebody heard the woman say help and nobody thought about it, everybody just jumped into action here, especially (Travinski and Chapdelaine). Jim went to go get a fire extinguisher, but they just ran right up the stairs and asked about the children, and if there was anybody else in the house, and they just went in and got the 2- and the 4-year-old,” Ms. Howard told The Citizen Chronicle last month.

According to the quartet of Center of Hope administrators, the woman calling for help was taking care of three children, ages 2, 3, and 4. They said the woman is the mother to one of the children and aunt to the other two children.

The good Samaritans couldn’t see once inside the apartment.

“There wasn’t a lot of visibility in the kitchen when they ran in there, they couldn’t see the kids,” Mr. Howard said. Chapdelaine said she “bumped into” the children as she could not see them in the thick, acrid smoke.

“You couldn’t see in there at all. We were about a foot apart from each other and we couldn’t see each other,” Travinski said last month. “Fortunately, we weren’t in there for very long. The kids were in that first room.”

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