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Firefighters rescue dozens from Garfield apartment building fire

| Monday, March 25, 2013, 8:30 a.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Firefighters battled a multi-alarm fire in the 300 block of North Negley Avenue Monday March 25, 2013 in Garfield.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Firefighters battled a multi-alarm fire in the 300 block of North Negley Avenue Monday March 25, 2013 in Garfield.

Mike Dodds spent the third morning in his new apartment climbing out of a third-story window to escape a fire.

“I opened the front door and there was black smoke billowing into my apartment,” said Dodds, 28, of Garfield. “I was trapped. I couldn't get out.”

Pittsburgh firefighters used ladders to rescue 24 people, including Dodds, early Monday when flames from a chemical fire filled the stairwell of the three-story building on North Negley Avenue.

“I'm terrified of heights,” Dodds said. “I had to put myself out there and take the risk.”

Investigators determined the fire, which was reported about 7:10 a.m., was accidental. Chemicals left in a hallway by maintenance workers somehow ignited, acting police Cmdr. Kevin Kraus said.

The fire trapped many people in their apartments, fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

“I thought I was going to have to jump,” said Everette Middlebrook, 21, who was visiting family in a third-floor apartment. “The only way out was the window. When I saw the ladder, I felt relieved.”

Falling snow made the climb down feel treacherous, she said.

“It was really scary,” Middlebrook said. “The ladder was really slippery. When my foot would touch a bar, it would slip.”

Paramedics hospitalized four people with smoke inhalation and treated 10 others at the scene, Jones said. Kraus said one man, 68, was in good condition in UPMC Presbyterian. He did not have information on other patients.

“This could've been a tragedy of enormous proportion,” Jones said.

Aaron Patterson, 20, said he grabbed his car keys, wallet and coat before climbing down the ladder.

“It's sad,” Patterson said. “A lot of people don't have fire insurance. It was a lot of thick smoke.”

A message left with JJ Land Co., listed as the building owner, was not returned.

One cat died in the fire, and the Animal Rescue League treated four others for smoke inhalation, Executive Director Dan Rossi said.

“They had heavy smoke inhalation, just as people would,” Rossi said. “We sent up oxygen in a tent — it's a plastic enclosed area where we pump oxygenated air in. It helps clean out their system and gets the carbon monoxide out.”

The owners of three of the cats claimed them, but Rossi said he's still trying to find the owner of an orange male cat.

It's not clear how many people the fire displaced, but Lauren Ashley, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said that agency was assisting five adults and one child with clothing, food and shelter.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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