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RESCUE VIDEO: 'Real-life angels' credited with saving life in Canandaigua fire

Daily Messenger - 1/11/2018

Jan. 11--CANANDAIGUA -- Michelle Fridley, a quadriplegic since she was injured in a car crash 17 years ago, for years has advocated a great deal for people with disabilities.

Her sister, Cheryl Fridley, expects that to continue, once Michelle recovers from injuries suffered in a fire at her Camelot Square Apartments residence last Saturday.

For a time she was listed in critical condition, said her sister, but on Wednesday Michelle Fridley was discharged from Strong Memorial Hospital.

"In speaking with her since this accident and once she fully recovers, she would like to advocate to have people who take care of people with disabilities to know how to better handle situations like this," Cheryl Fridley said in an email.

"I believe that you always think that it won't happen to you and when it does, it is very devastating."

Canandaigua firefighters responded to Michelle's first-floor apartment at around 1 p.m. Saturday on a day when temperatures struggled to surpass single digits.

Daily Messenger news partner News 10NBC provides the following account of what happened from Michelle Fridley's boyfriend, Chris Prime.

Prime said he was cooking lunch for his girlfriend and her home health aide when the fire started on the stove. He knew they had to get out, but Michelle requires a lift to get into her motorized wheelchair.

"I yell to her attendant, 'Hey, we got to get Michelle in her chair and out the door,'" Prime said.

The flames prevented them from going out the front door, so they planned to lift Michelle through the bedroom window but her wheelchair became stuck.

"I ran over to her to see where the chair was stuck and then smoke just got to me," Prime said. "I'm like, 'I got to take a breath. I'll be right back.'"

When he turned to go back in, the thick smoke was like a wall.

Canandaigua Capt. Don Phillips and firefighter Ben Cramer, who served last year for a time as interim Canandaigua fire chief, are credited with entering the burning building and pulling Fridley, who was unconscious, from the fire. Cramer also pulled a small dog from the apartment.

After Fridley left the apartment, both then began to fight the fire. At the time, Cramer said it was all training and instinct, as he said he could not see once inside.

"Any firefighter would have done the same thing," Cramer said. "The city does push for good, quality training, and it paid off."

Fire Chief Frank Magnera said the two firefighters did an excellent job. And after learning that Fridley was to leave the hospital Wednesday, he said "that's even better."

Many firefighters have served entire careers without ever having to make a rescue such as this, he said.

"I don't want to say it's routine, because it's not," Magnera said. "I'm extremely proud of them."

Michelle Fridley, who is a 2010 Ms. Wheelchair New York award winner, said she is thankful.

"You're real-life angels," News 10NBC quoted her as saying of her rescuers. "I've been going through some crises of faith and it's restored my faith in God. If it had been just us, we wouldn't have made it."

Cramer said without Phillips, the rescue wouldn't have gone the way it did.

Cramer's helmet camera footage of the dramatic fire rescue has gone viral, drawing comments and praise from all over the country. Cramer said the response to the video has been very positive.

"There also have been a lot of inquires of how Canandaigua Fire Department operates at fires," Cramer said. "Citizens have told me they are surprised how difficult it is to see inside at a fire. Many did not realize that much of our work is done by feeling our way around smoke-filled rooms."

And it has sparked renewed controversy over fire staffing in the city.

Watching the footage, new City Councilmember Renee Sutton said it was "eye-opening."

Sutton was endorsed by the union representing Canandaigua's professional firefighters, although three members of the union's board -- including Cramer -- were issued reprimands. The union is fighting the charges.

Sutton said she was struck by hearing Cramer speak into his radio, calling for help while at the time he was by himself. As Cramer said, the video also shows just how limited a person entering a burning structure can see because of the thick smoke.

"He sounded professional, but there was an edge to his voice," Sutton said.

Sutton said she was also impressed by how after the woman was pulled from the apartment, they went back in to fight the fire.

"They did a tremendous job," Sutton said.

Magnera said that's one of the reasons why the camera is such a valuable tool.

"It definitely depicts what goes on," he said.

The footage also has renewed controversy over fire staffing levels in the city.

Many in the community have urged the city to double the number of on-duty staff, from two now to four. City staff has estimated that doing so would result in a 20 percent tax levy increase.

But, a deputy fire chief position was added for 2018, although that spot has not been filled. The person hired will help to fill in as needed but also focus on the recruitment of volunteers. Discussions among municipalities may also lead to ways the cost of providing the service can be shared, although that is a long-term goal.

Sutton, along with new Councilmember Bob Palumbo, campaigned on the fire staffing issue. Sutton said she is encouraging residents to speak out about the issue.

"I feel there is a need for more manpower," Sutton said. "It's a real problem in need of a solution."

A former Canandaigua city firefighter, George Smith, approached members of City Council who attended a committee meeting on Tuesday night and urged them all to contact the firefighters and thank them.

The video proves staffing is not adequate, he said afterward.

As Michelle Fridley begins to recover, her family has started a Gofundme account. As of early Wednesday evening, more than $1,400 had been raised, with a goal of $15,000.

"As far as the firefighters go, our family would like to thank them from the bottom of our heart for saving her life," Cheryl Fridley said. "We are so thankful for how quickly they responded. Fighters are lifesavers, and they saved another life Saturday."

To help

A Gofundme account has been set up to help Michelle Fridley, who was injured in a fire last Saturday at her Camelot Square Apartment in Canandaigua. Visit https://www.gofundme.com/help-for-michelle-and-felicia.

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(c)2018 Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.

Visit Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y. at www.MPNnow.com

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