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Janesville boy dies in house fire

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
May 10, 2008
— Two firefighters entered a burning house Saturday and pulled two small boys out. It was too late, however, for 7-year-old Derek R.J. Mattingly.

Derek was pronounced dead at Mercy Hospital.


Derek’s 2-year-old brother, Joey Ashmore, was flown from Mercy to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment.


Four other occupants of the two-apartment house at 327 N. Palm St. survived the fire without apparent injury. They were the boys’ father, Scott A. Ashmore, 23; another brother, Owen A.P. Ashmore, 4, and two occupants of the upstairs apartment, Laurie R. Ginter, 44, who was identified as the boys’ grandmother, and Dale S. Kuntz, 51, of W6888 County Line Road, Fort Atkinson.


The boys’ mother, Kristarra M. Mattingly, 22, was at work, said the fire department’s Capt. Mike Gang.


Officials said the 4-year-old awakened Ashmore, and that’s when he saw the couch in the living room was on fire, Gang said.


Investigators could find no evidence of smoke alarms in the house, except for one in the basement, Gang said.


Kristarra later told them she had removed a smoke alarm the week before. Gang didn’t know why.


Ashmore tried to rouse the other boys and then decided to go upstairs to warn the other residents, Gang said.


The fire was so hot when Ashmore returned that he could not get in to help his sons, although he tried, Gang said.


Gang noted that Ashmore has a physical handicap that could have hindered him.


Janesville police officer Tim O’Leary was the first responder to arrive, and he, too, tried to get in but was beaten back by the flames, Gang said.


“I was the second person on scene, and officer O’Leary was making a very valiant effort to get inside,” Gang said.


“I know what he feels. He made every attempt that he could,” Gang said.


Next on scene was Engine 83, which had just finished a call at nearby Mercy Hospital. Lt. Scott Morovits and firefighter Liz Leitzen could already see heavy black smoke as they left the hospital.


They were told two boys were inside a bedroom on the ground floor.


Firefighters saw flames on the ceiling on the far side of the boys’ bedroom. Too much water would have caused steam, which would have hampered a rescue, Morovits said.


After a short burst from their hose, Leitzen and Morovits entered through a window.


The room was dark and smoky, visibility near zero, said Deputy Chief Jim Jensen, who interviewed those involved at the scene.


Leitzen said they found the boys by feeling around.


They “scooped them up” and passed them out the window to waiting firefighters, who started medical treatment, Morovits said.


“There was significant heat and smoke damage in that room, something that would be very difficult for someone to survive,” Jensen said.


Firefighters performed CPR on at least one of the boys, Jensen said.


Morovits and Leitzen went back out the window, picked up their line and went back at the fire through the front door.


The call came in at 7:54 a.m., the police department reported. The boys were being treated on the ground in front of the house at 8:06, thanks to quick work by all involved, Gang said.


Asked how dangerous it was to enter the burning house, Gang said: “We put ourselves in the line of danger, but that’s what we do. We certainly are well trained and well outfitted to do it.”


Morovits stressed that it was a team effort by everyone from the numerous units at the scene.


“The neighbors remarked at how quickly the fire spread,” Jensen said.


Blackened branches on a nearby tree indicate that flames shot out of the top of the house at least 20 feet into the air.


After the fire was knocked down, as firefighters exchanged their spent air bottles for fresh ones, several gathered to comfort Leitzen.


“People were telling us that we did what we were able to do and that we did a good job,” Leitzen said.


Leitzen said it was the first time she had experienced that situation, but at that point, she didn’t know Derek had died.


“I have a 2-year-old at home, and seeing a little body coming out—me actually taking the body out—was emotional,” she said.


“It made me sad to think that that could have been my daughter as much as anybody else’s …” she said. “But as far as doing my job and everything else, I’m fine.”


Indeed, Leitzen was soon back at work on the smoldering house.


“It’s difficult for them, and also for the police officers,” Jensen said. “Certainly, a tragedy.”


One firefighter sprained an ankle while on a stairway, Gang said.


The house was still standing Saturday but appeared nearly or completely gutted. Gang said it was a total loss. The house was assessed at $55,100.


The owner is Noe Ramos of Franklin Park, Ill., Gang said.


The fire’s cause remains under investigation.



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