Charging into burning house just 'instincts,' Menter medic tells Pall-Times about heroic Saturday

A Saturday house fire on West Utica Street, pictured above, might have ended in tragedy if not for the quick thinking and action of local first responders — especially Menter Ambulance's Eric Chrisman, who entered the building on "instincts" to clear residents from the upper floors.

OSWEGO — No residents were injured in a Saturday multi-family house fire on the west side of the city, but the outcome might have been much different if not for quick thinking and “above and beyond” action by local first responders.

Oswego Fire Department officials said the home in the 900 block of West Utica Street sustained heavy damage during the fire, which began sometime before 11 a.m. The blaze began in the top floor and billowed smoke from a trio of blown-out front windows and through the roof.

Menter Ambulance Service’s Eric Chrisman, a Granby native on duty Saturday for the local transportation provider, spotted the smoke while driving by.

“Instincts take over,” Chrisman, 49, told The Palladium-Times Monday morning.

The instincts of a 20-year volunteer firefighter are different than most. A quick call on his radio alerted the Oswego Fire Department (OFD) and other local agencies of the situation. It would be mere minutes before multiple engines arrived with hoses, axes and protective gear. Chrisman didn’t have minutes.

“We have a lot of great people on our staff,” said Zach Menter, president and CEO of the company that bears his name. “This is an example of how they’ll go above and beyond.”

Chrisman approached the house immediately after calling in the fire. No residents could be found outside. The smoke was black and getting more intense.

“I began to start pounding on doors,” Chrisman said.

Several residents exited the house, Chrisman recalls, and informed him additional people were still upstairs. He charged inside, “pounding and yelling for people to get out,” and after clearing the second floor, continued to climb into the teeth of the fire. On the third floor, Chrisman ushered one person down the stairs behind him but couldn’t make any further entry due to the smoke and heat. He rejoined the rest of the emergency crews assembling on West Utica Street, suffering from smoke inhalation, but with his mission accomplished: everyone got out safely.

“That’s what I’m in this business to do, to help people and save lives,” Chrisman said.

It took roughly 20 minutes for crews from OFD and the Oswego and Minetto Town fire departments to knock down the fire. Chrisman was taken for an evaluation for smoke inhalation. He had x-rays and some lab work done, he says, then went back and finished his shift.

“We’re grateful for the people we have. We’ve known he’s crazy for a long time,” Zach Menter said with a laugh.

The house on West Utica Street is now “untenable and uninhabitable,” said OFD Chief Randy Griffin, and is now cordoned off. Despite the extent of the damage, Griffin did not consider the building a total loss.

“It’s possible to rehab the house but it’s up to the homeowner,” Griffin said.

According to information from the Oswego County Real Property Office, Paul H. Weston of Weedsport owns the property. The three-family residence was purchased in 2014 for $335,000.

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