Updated: Firefighter 'just glad to be here' after early-morning fire in Melvin
Updated at 6:56 p.m. Friday.
MELVIN — Rick Flessner said Friday he feels lucky to be alive after a floor collapsed underneath him during an early-morning blaze at a bar in downtown Melvin.
"I'm just glad to be here," he said as he spent Friday recovering at home. "I've got a new outlook on life."
Flessner, a 20-year veteran of the Roberts fire department, was among an estimated 30 firefighters from three area departments that responded to the fire at Bubba's Bar and Grill, 103 W. Main St., about 3:30 a.m. Friday.
Melvin Fire Chief Larry Boundy, who works as a snow-plow driver for the village of Melvin, said he was plowing snow in downtown Melvin when he noticed "flames coming out of the front windows" of the bar around 3:15 a.m.
"The front part of (the building) was on fire," Boundy said. "It was just burning through the windows and stuff."
Firefighters from Melvin, Roberts, Sibley and Gibson City responded. No one was inside the bar, which had closed at 10:30 the night prior, Boundy said.
"There was a lot of smoke, a lot of heat," Boundy said. "It really melted a lot of stuff on the inside before it actually broke out and started to flame. It got hot pretty quick."
As firefighters started battling the blaze inside the building, Flessner fell through weakened flooring on the bar's first floor and into the basement, Boundy said.
"We had just entered to do some fire suppression — to pull down ceilings so we could see if there was fire in the ceilings," Flessner said. "And we sounded the floor when we went in. I had a short pike pole. Typically you bang on the floor (with the pike pole) when you go in, and it was sound when we walked in.
"But apparently when we were pulling that ceiling down, the floor gave way, and when it did, I fell and caught myself on the pole I was using. I fell onto the pike pole across the floor space, and when the floor gave way the rest of the way, I went all the way down into the basement."
Flessner estimated the fall to be about eight feet.
"Luckily, there was nothing below me, and I just fell to the floor and crawled to the wall," Flessner said.
"Then I ran out of breathing air. That's when I got a little nervous. But training and experience tells you, 'Take the end of your mask and stick it in your coat and breathe the air that is inside your coat.' So that's what I did.
"And I kept yelling for help, and I stuck my pike pole out through the hole I had fallen through, and (other firefighters then) saw it and sent a ladder down, and I crawled up it."
Flessner was able to climb out of the basement under his own power.
"We had three guys down in the basement and guys up front, so we got him out of there pretty quick," Boundy said.
Flessner, who also serves as the village board president in Roberts, was taken to Gibson Area Hospital. He was treated and released, according to a news release from Sheriff Mark Doran.
Flessner said Friday that he still is "a little sore from the fall" but is thankful he was not seriously injured. Flessner had never been in a situation like that before.
"I guess my biggest thought is why training is so important," Flessner said. "Training is important, and so is your gear — having good fire-protection gear so you can fight fires safely.
"And luck played into this, too."
Firefighters had cleared the scene as of 8:30 a.m., Doran said.
An investigator for the Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office arrived at the scene later on Friday morning to further investigate the origin and potential cause of the fire, Doran said.
"The fire does not appear to be suspicious at this time," Doran said. "However, due to a firefighter being injured, the Illinois State Fire Marshal is required to be called."
Boundy said he suspects the fire was caused by an electrical issue.
"We think it started toward the front of the building," Boundy said. "We're pretty sure it's electrical because it started right about floor level."
Doran said there are no monetary estimates of damage at this time, but he said the building did receive "substantial fire and water damage."
The damage was limited to the first floor and basement, Boundy said.
The three-story building is owned by Jennifer Brucker, Boundy said. It is insured, Boundy said.