SALEM, N.H. (WHDH) - When a fire broke out in the kitchen of a China Star restaurant in Salem, New Hampshire Wednesday morning, 49-year-old lieutenant Chris Hamilton and 40-year-old firefighter P.J. Comeau rushed in to put it out. Both were injured when the building collapsed.
“The second floor collapsed down on top of them and pinned Lt. Hamilton and it also struck firefighter Comeau,” Salem fire chief Paul Parisi said.
Hamilton’s leg was trapped under a beam, while Comeau’s helmet was ripped off his head. Both still managed to escape. They called “mayday” and made sure every firefighter got out and stayed out.
In the meantime, fire alarms sounded throughout the building, getting the attention of the people living in the 10 connecting apartments.
“My wife was already up and she heard the alarm and says, ‘oh something’s wrong outside,’” said resident Ludwin Zurita.
All 17 people managed to escape without injury. One resident, Philip Momah, didn’t even have time to grab a pair of shoes.
“It happened so fast,” Momah said. “It was thick, black smoke.”
The fire spread quickly from the restaurant to a vape store next door and into the apartments.
“It is my belief they got out because when the alarms went off they got out of the building,” Parisi said. “That is, to me, why they’re all alive right now.”
Now a longtime eatery is gone and the homes of many have been destroyed.
“It’s surreal,” Momah said. “I can’t believe it’s happening.”
Many of the victims are staying with family or relatives for the time being and the Red Cross is assisting them as well.
The injured firefighters were taken to a nearby hospital and are expected to be OK.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
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