EVERETT — Flames still flared as Everett fire Capt. Nick Adsero and firefighter Brent Duckworth made their way through heat and smoke. In the apartment unit’s dark master bedroom, Adsero went by touch — until he found a tiny girl.
“It was shocking, that this was really happening. I have a kid in my arms,” Adsero said in a Herald interview a week after the Jan. 29 fire at the Olin Fields Apartments on Holly Drive.
“We knew they were in the back bedroom,” said Adsero, 41. “I just felt on the bed and grabbed something and I kind of heard a sound.”
That sound was 3-year-old Chloe Orick, who was limp as a rag doll.
Duckworth carried Chloe to an ambulance that would take her to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. Then he went back inside the burning first-floor apartment.
Just as Duckworth returned to the bedroom, the two men heard Chloe’s twin, Emma Orick, make a squeak. In better condition than her sister, Emma was found wedged by the bed and under some blankets. Both girls were treated for smoke inhalation at Harborview.
“Our guys got there quickly. They did what they’re trained to do,” said Steve Goforth, Everett’s assistant fire marshal.
Adsero and Duckworth will be among those honored Thursday at the 2018 American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast. The event, 7 a.m. at Tulalip Resort Casino, is a fundraiser to support local Red Cross programs. The pair are recipients of the agency’s Fire Rescue Award.
“All dollars stay within Snohomish County,” said Betsy Robertson, the American Red Cross Northwest Region’s communications program manager. Last year, she said, the event raised $285,000.
Duckworth, 35, was a probationary firefighter who’d been on the job in Everett for less than five months when the apartment fire call came.
“The little girls were 3 years old at that time, and my daughter was 4 and my son was 2. So you know … a lot of emotions,” said Duckworth. He told Herald writer Caleb Hutton that until Jan. 29, he’d never been “first in” to a real fire.
“Knowing that the fire had been burning for as long as it had, and seeing how involved the unit was, the expectation was something terrible,” Everett Fire Chief Dave DeMarco said.
DeMarco, who took over as fire chief in June, has been with the department 24 years. He was an assistant chief on Jan. 29, but even so jumped in the ambulance carrying Chloe to help paramedics.
While Adsero and Duckworth were in the building, dozens of others were in support roles “to get them where they needed to be,” Goforth said Wednesday. “Whether it’s opening a ceiling or adding ventilation, they’re not the guys in the flames — but everybody was just working, doing their jobs.”
Fighting that fire was a countywide effort, Goforth said, with crews from South County Fire, Marysville, Lake Stevens and Naval Station Everett.
With their mother, Sihaya Sweum, Chloe and Emma have visited their rescuers at Everett’s Fire Station 6 on Evergreen Way. “I am very, very, very grateful,” Sweum said. “I do not know what I would have done if anything happened to those two. I’m so happy.”
An older sister, 23, was babysitting the girls but had left them alone in the apartment. The sister, who wasn’t charged, told police she had put the twins down for a nap and had gone to the parking lot before seeing the building burning. A prosecutor told The Herald in May that the sister had tried to reach the girls, but the fire stopped her.
There’s a takeaway from the January fire, beyond having working smoke detectors and an escape plan, Goforth said.
“Close Before You Doze” is a public education effort sponsored by the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute. It sends the message that closing a bedroom door at night decreases the risk of being harmed by a fire. In the apartment blaze, the door had been closed in the bedroom where Chloe and Emma were found.
Goforth said there was a dramatic difference between the door’s burned side and the bedroom side. “The area where they were found, it gave them that barrier until we were able to get them,” he said. “Obviously you also want working smoke detectors.”
It’s understandable that parents like being able to hear young children at night, but a monitor can help with that. Closed bedroom doors are safer for everyone, Goforth said.
In training, firefighters go through all kinds of scenarios. “Knock down the fire and rescue, that’s the first order of priority,” Goforth said. “Anytime there are kids involved, there’s an extra sense of urgency.
“When that day, that test, comes — and it’s not every day, we go on a lot of false alarms — there’s a great sense of accomplishment when you do what you’re trained to do,” Goforth said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Herald writers Caleb Hutton and Rikki King contributed to this story.