No one was home when a south Sacramento house caught fire early Monday morning. But minutes after arriving to battle the blaze, firefighters had to pull two men out of the burning building.
They were two of their own.
Three firefighters were ultimately hospitalized Monday after one suffered smoke inhalation and two were burned battling a basement fire at a residence in the 5200 block of 22nd Avenue.
The department identified the firefighters as Capt. Gary Pimentel, firefighter Adam McKahan and probationary firefighter Alex Galang.
Witnesses said smoke was pouring from the basement of the Colonial Heights home when fire crews arrived at the burning building around 6:30 a.m. It seemed the flames were coming from the basement.
At 6:34 a.m., a mayday call went out. Firefighters in trouble.
When Sacramento Fire Department Chief Walter White heard the call, he said, he immediately feared for the safety of the crew inside.
“A mayday call is not something you ever want to hear,” White said.
Two firefighters were trapped in the basement, said department spokesman Roberto Padilla. Firefighters on scene immediately began to focus on rescuing the men, who were pulled from the burning building and transported to UC Davis Medical Center. They were later transported to a burn unit, Padilla said.
A third firefighter, who suffered heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, was also hospitalized.
For an hour after the blaze was reported, flames still licked the walls of the two-story residence. Smoke continued to rise from the shattered windows and punctured roof for hours into Monday afternoon.
Corey Beams, whose family owns the home, said the basement of the home was empty, except for an old furnace he believes must have sparked the fire.
“That old furnace is the only thing in the basement,” he said. “Once the firefighters got here, they headed down to the basement – that’s about 10 steps down – but the floor gave and the two that got burned fell through. That’s a long fall.”
“Our prayers are with the firefighters who were injured in there today,” added his cousin Marissa Simpson. “We take for granted how much they put themselves in harm’s way for us until we’re personally affected by a fire. It’s selfless what they do, and we’re so grateful.”
Pimentel has worked for the department since 1995, McKahan since 2005 and Galang since April 2014. The Fire Department did not specify the nature of the injuries to each firefighter, but Padilla noted that Pimentel was the last transported, which would indicate he was not one of the burn victims.
White, who said he spoke to the firefighters before they were taken to the hospital, described them as being in “good spirits,” though they have a “long road” toward recovery.
The department declined to specify how the firefighters were injured, or how severe their injuries were, citing an ongoing investigation. But White noted that “shortly after the initial attack, two firefighters wound up in the basement.”
He said several homes in the area are undergoing basement construction and the houses are not structurally sound. Sacramento firefighters historically have mounted aggressive firefights that require them to go into burning structures.
“Sacramento fire has a long tradition of aggressive interior fire attack,” said White. “When you have a fire inside a home, the best way is to get in there where the fire is.”
Crews eventually stopped fighting the fire while inside the home because the house had sustained major fire damage and was deemed too dangerous to enter. Firefighters eventually put out the blaze from outside the residence.
Beams said his sister and her husband live in the house but were away on vacation when the fire began. He said the house has been in his family for decades but underwent a complete remodel about a year ago.
“The whole inside is a complete loss,” said Beams.
Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.