Heroes leap into action at sight of smoke

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com

Two maintenance workers saved a Cornell Avenue home from destruction Wednesday, May 2, leaping into action when they spotted thick smoke.

Amherst Schools employees Ron Hritsko and Rob Giacobbe were driving between work sites when they discovered the smoke and decided to stop and check it out.

They found mulch on fire and Giacobbe, an Amherst firefighter, grabbed a fire extinguisher from their truck while Hritsko picked up a shovel.

“Sure enough, the porch started to catch on fire. They used what they could to put it out, then they called me,” said fire chief Jim Wilhelm.

Without their heroism, the house would have been fully engulfed in flames within a matter of minutes, he said.

A cigarette is the likely cause of the fire.

That’s also the case at Denny’s on Rt. 58, where mulch went up in smoke around 6 a.m. on Sunday, April 29, Wilhelm said. Firefighters “were lucky enough to stop it” just as the fire was about to breach into the attic, he said.

Still, there was a considerable amount of damage inside the restaurant — enough to close it down for at least days. Heat blew out a window on the north side of the dining room and ceiling tiles were heavily logged by water.

Denny’s has cedar siding and over the years mulch has been pushed up under the wood, the fire chief said.

This is not the first time that problem has reared its ugly head. Wilhelm said the siding has caught fire twice and firefighters have responded three times to the restaurant.

He hopes to convince management to replace mulch beds with river rock.

Amherst firefighters have also been busy responding to problems with gas lines.

Wilhelm said a contractor for WOW Internet, Cable, and Phone has been digging lines and as of Friday had hit gas lines a half-dozen times.

He said none proved serious. Outdoor ruptures cause an odor but don’t pose the same explosive potential as a leak inside a house or other enclosed area.

“The good thing is they’re outside. So we monitor the area until the gas company can get it shut off,” Wilhelm said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk