Firefighters Andrew Derichsweiler and Cameron Medeiros were doing engine checks at Tuolumne City’s fire station at 8:59 a.m. on a chilly morning back in late April when tones went off for a structure fire.
Whenever initial dispatch is for structure fire, Derichsweiler, 20, and Medeiros, 25, get into their full turnouts, flash hoods, self-contained breathing apparatus, boots and helmets in two minutes or less.
Within 90 seconds they were on their engine with Capt. Nick Ohler driving to the blaze. They could see smoke. They arrived at 18393 Apple Colony Road within moments. Medeiros and Derichsweiler were off their engine breathing tank air, hauling a 200-foot hose pre-connected to their rig, straight to the front door of a home with flames billowing out the front bedroom windows.
Medeiros was first. Derichsweiler right behind him. The door was ajar. Flames shot out the windows to their right. Their hose was fully charged, and fire was increasing in the hallway and above the eave of the door. They worked their way around the inward-swinging door that partially blocked their access to the main room that was on fire and got inside.
“I could hear somebody yelling,” Medeiros said. “I told Riley do a search.” He calls Derichsweiler Riley for short.
Meanwhile, deputies with the Sheriff’s Office were on scene and nearby Summerville Elementary School was placed on lockdown.
Smoke filled the inside of the home, from the ceiling down, and it was already coming down to neck-level and shoulder-level. Derichsweiler went to the back and found nobody in a back room, came back toward the front, turned into a living room area and found a man laying on his back not saying much.
“Hey, I found him,” Derichsweiler hollered. “Need help getting him out.”
The last thing they heard the man yelling was “help” and his eyes were kind of open but he was pretty much out when Derichsweiler found him.
Medeiros kept the hose trained on the fire in the other room for a bit because the front door still looked like the safest way out. Then Derichsweiler grabbed the man’s wrists, Medeiros grabbed his ankles, and they did a hasty drag-and-carry to get the man out the front door as fast a possible.
They went down the steps and into the front yard, far enough to get the man a safe distance from the burning house. By this time a second engine was on scene and Derichsweiler and Medeiros passed their patient off to the second engine crew, who started treating the man.
Medeiros and Derichsweiler went back inside and continued fighting the fire. They confined fire damage to the front of the house and the rest of the house sustained smoke damage. The fire was declared contained by 9:50 a.m. The lockdown at Summerville Elementary was lifted by 10:20 a.m.
Ohler said the origin and cause of the fire was smoking. The homeowner, Wesley Dye, said his brother-in-law, Melvin Slate, fell asleep with a lit cigarette. Explosions heard throughout the neighborhood were caused by Slate’s oxygen tanks, which burst from the heat.
Deputies said four people were inside when the fire broke out. Three of them were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation. Melvin Slate was airlifted by helicopter ambulance to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and treated for smoke inhalation and burns.
On Wednesday night at a meeting at the Tuolumne City fire station, Ohler presented Derichsweiler and Medeiros with Lifesaving Awards. Each received a plaque that states “For saving the life of a man in a structure fire in Tuolumne, CA, April 25, 2019.”
The burned house on Apple Colony Road is still there and Wednesday evening it appeared to be unoccupied.
“The cause of the fire was an accident, and at the end of the day we’re happy we can get in there and do our jobs and get him out of there,” Ohler said. “He’s still around and with his family.”
Derichsweiler was born and raised in Tuolumne County. He’s been a firefighter for a year and a half. Medeiros was born in Visalia and raised in the Central Valley. He’s been a firefighter six years.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.