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'Training just kicks in' as volunteers help evacuate their burning apartment building in Darien

A classic, fully restored Harley was lost, as well as a restored Jeep. Six residents lost their personal belongings. The apartment building at 1363 Broadway, Darien, was destroyed.

Sadly, a dog lost his life.

But no people were seriously hurt, or worse.

That bit of good fortunate is a credit, it seems, to the professionalism of two members of the Darien Volunteer Fire Department who lived in the apartment building.

Joshua Reeb and Paul Redden were home when the fire broke out sometime around 4:30 a.m.

Redden smashed through Reeb's door and woke his fellow volunteer. He said he smelled smoke. Reeb felt the door into the hallway. At that point, he said, his fire training kicked in.

"It was all fire training," Reeb said. "I knew right away from the smell and the heat it was a real one. It wasn't somebody burning something. It was real."

Reeb and Redden helped alert the other residents, including the landlord, who owned the building and had lived in the main apartment for 30 years. Reeb helped him down the second-floor fire escape.

"I knew I had to get out and I had to get out now," Reeb said.

The two volunteers then rushed to the Darien fire hall -- less than a half-mile away -- and got their trucks "ready to rock and roll."

"I knew I wasn't going to be able to fight this fire," Reeb said. "But I knew I could get to the hall, open the doors, get the truck ready and let other people take over."

It was pitch black coming out of the apartment onto the fire escape. Knowing the layout, staying calm, not trying to grab his belongings, and being aware of what was going on around him made all the difference, said the 22-year-old Reeb, who has been a volunteer for five years.

"The training just takes over," Reeb said. "There's no fear. It's just respect for the fire, knowing I've got to do this and I've got to do this. All of that training just kicks in. It didn't hit me until I saw the flames coming out of my bedroom window and then it took me to the ground."

The initial investigation indicates the fire originated in the basement garage where fumes from spilled gasoline may have ignited when a hot water heater kicked on.

The building was owned by Scott Gielow, a mechanic who had converted his basement into a garage where he restored the vehicles he loved -- Harleys and Jeeps. In addition to losing the restored vehicles, he had two Jeeps that were still projects.

The fire was reported at 4:35 a.m. and as soon as Darien Chief Jim Marino got on scene he called for a second alarm. Flames were shooting out of the back of the building.

Two residents suffered minor burns and were treated at the scene.

The century-old structure was balloon construction with no insulation. Aluminum siding helped contain the fire to the interior of the building, but the flames just shot up the walls, unhindered by the kind of blocks between floors used in more modern buildings.

New hot spots seemed to flare up faster than firefighters could pour water on other involved parts of the building.

"The nature of the fire, the wind, the balloon construction, where it started, just made it hard to attack," Marino said.

Marino said it sounded like Reeb and Redden did a good job of making sure everybody got out of the building safely.

"It could have been a lot worse," Marino said.

Responding departments included Darien, Alexander, City of Batavia (Fast Team), Town of Batavia, Corfu, Pembroke, Alden and Bennington. Marcy EMS and Darien Ambulance also responded and deputies were on scene.

The Red Cross is assisting the displaced residents.

UPDATE 4:52 p.m.: Darien has been dispatched for a possible rekindle of the fire. It's the second rekindle this afternoon.

UPDATE 4:54 p.m.: Per chief, all units can remain in quarters.

UPDATE 5:29 p.m.: Darien and Corfu dispatched for a rekindle.

Joshua Reeb looks over the damage to the apartment building where he had been living.

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