Woman rescued from apartment fire
Multiple families and a business displaced, one pet dies
TINA L. SCOTT
Neighbor calls 911
In the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, Jessica Mahn was asleep in her bed. “My dog kept going up and down off the bed and nudging me,” Mahn said. “I assumed she had to go to the bathroom, so I took her outside.”
That’s when she looked to her left and saw flames and smoke shooting out of an apartment building just half a block away. Mahn said she didn’t hear any sirens. Instead, she heard crackling and “instantly called 911.” Seconds afterward she heard sirens and “heard someone screaming from there.”
“I was in a panic,” Mahn said.
Firsthand account from woman trapped in fire
“I was sleeping on my couch and the smoke alarms went off,” said Emily “Emy” Finette Peterson, age 40. “I saw some smoke by the kitchen and walked to see what was smoking and saw all the flames outside my front door in my stairwell.”
Peterson lived in an upstairs apartment at 213 1/2 E. 2nd St. in Merrill.
“I called 911,” she said. “I got my dog and ran into my son’s room since the window was farthest away and faced the street. The Fire Department got there, put the ladder up for me, and I climbed down and ran across the street.”
Peterson was safe, and so were her husband and son, because she was sick and had recently been tested for COVID, so she was isolating in the apartment and her family members were staying elsewhere for the night.
Still, “It was terrifying and heartbreaking,” Peterson said, “because I knew by that point, my dog was gone and everything I’ve had that was important to me was going up in flames.”
Ironically, her dog’s name was Smokey.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” she said. “You can’t believe what you’re seeing with your own eyes.”
Merrill Fire Department responds
The Merrill Fire Department confirmed that on the morning of Nov. 30, just after 2:30 a.m., they were dispatched to a reported structure fire at 213 1/2 E. 2nd St. 63-Truck, Engine-61, and Med-62 responded immediately from the Fire Station.
“Dispatch informed fire units that an occupant was trapped on the second floor,” Merrill Fire Chief Josh Klug said in a press release later that day. “Upon arrival, Merrill firefighters located a female resident at an upstairs window and used a ground ladder to rescue her.”
“Crews then battled the fire which had spread to the apartment building next door [215 E. 2nd St.],” the release said. “The fire was eventually contained, but only after significant damage to the buildings. While all occupants escaped and no one was hurt, one dog [Peterson’s dog, Smokey] died from the fire.”
After investigation, the fire likely started in the upper stairwell of the apartment and was unintentional in nature; however, the official cause of the fire is undetermined at this time, according to the Nov. 30 release.
“The fire originated in 213 1/2 E. 2nd St. and spread to 215 1/2 E. 2nd,” Klug confirmed. “The residents in all four of the apartments plus the business (Smoke Shop) were displaced. One of residents was not home at the time of the fire. The residents of the other three units were temporarily relocated to the AmericInn that morning with assistance from the Red Cross.”
“The fire scene was released back to the building owner after completion of the fire investigation, so it will be up to residents to work with him and his insurance company on when and how they are allowed back into the building,” he added. “215 is a partial loss, and I’m not sure how the insurance company will classify the loss to 213. The upstairs received heavy damage.”
“Mutual aid [came] from Corning, Pine River, and Wausau Fire Departments, and Tomahawk EMS assisted at the incident. The Merrill Fire Department was also supported by Merrill Police, Water, and Street Departments, and Wisconsin Public Service,” the release said.
Smoke detectors save lives
“If it hadn’t been for the smoke detectors, I’d have never known,” Peterson said. And she might not have made it out alive. “I couldn’t smell the smoke due to the loss of my smell from COVID.”
“I had actually gone that afternoon to be re-tested,” Peterson said, “because the first test the day before was negative, and I knew I had it, due to loss of smell and taste. (They confirmed it was positive a few hours after the fire.) My husband and my little boy were gone due to my belief it would be positive.”
“I also can’t stress how important it is to have working smoke detectors in your home, because seconds, not minutes, matter when you have a fire,” Klug said.
“The outcome of this fire could have been much different if Merrill didn’t have a full-time staffed fire department,” he added. “With our quick response and actions, we were able to save a woman’s life that morning.”
“In our fire prevention program, we teach people who are trapped by fire to shield themselves by closing a door and going to a window for help, which is exactly what the resident did that morning,” Klug said.
Gratitude to firemen and community
Peterson said she has a place to stay and her son is staying with her mother due to her being in quarantine with COVID. Friends, neighbors, and the community were quick to respond with donations and support.
“Right now I think we are ok for items needed,” she said. “The outpour from the community has been astounding. I honestly did not expect the outpouring of support we are getting. Everyone is having a hard time due to the economy and COVID outbreaks, but they have come out for all of us so strongly, and I can’t thank everyone enough. There aren’t enough words for my gratitude.”
Peterson’s neighbor in her same building is staying at the AmericInn and will likely need clothing, furniture, toiletries, and other household items, as her apartment was also a total loss. Peterson said she isn’t sure about the neighbors in the building next door.
“I am so thankful for the community I grew up and live in,” she emphasized. “And I appreciate everyone! We have a FANTABULOUS little town that I’m proud to be a member of.”