Heroes brave fire - Nurse breaks leg while saving two children - Residents join hands to douse flames

Published: Wednesday | March 18, 2009

Residents and caregivers start the clean-up process at Martha's House on North Street after it was gutted by fire on Monday night. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

It all happened so quickly.

The second-storey level of Martha's House, a Mustard Seed Communities home on North Street, was where the fire started. All the children save two had already been whisked to safety.

But that's when the brave efforts of nurse Dawn Mansfield, as those who witnessed the events will testify, came into play.

Fearing the flames and seeing no other way out, Mansfield broke a window on the upper level at the rear of the building and jumped; the little ones firmly in her grasp.

Somehow Mansfield was able to protect the children even as her ankle buckled upon landing and snapped.

"All I want to say is that I'm happy all the children are alive and that I'm alive; that's it," said a fatigued Mansfield yesterday as she lay in her bed at the Kingston Public Hospital.

She seemed more intent on getting some rest than talking, the cast on her right leg, a badge of courage.

Mustard Seed officials and other workers were by her bedside, bringing her toiletries and other items to help make her comfortable.

Mansfield told The Gleaner that she had been working at the hostel for almost three years.

She was not the only good Samaritan injured in the rescue attempt. Augustus Blakem, more popularly called Tingo, a caretaker at the hostel, also had to receive medical treatment. He suffered burns to his left leg but was treated at hospital yesterday morning after he had stayed behind to watch the start of the clean-up effort.

Catalyst for heroism

The nurse's effort seemed to be a catalyst for heroism on Monday night, as residents from surrounding communities made sure they helped to ensure no more was lost than necessary.

They don't have superpowers, don't wear capes and cowls and do not use gadgets to battle evil.

But what the men and women of Wildman Street and surrounding communities did on Monday evening was no less heroic.

Had it not been for their efforts, many, if not all of the 30 wards housed at Martha's House, would have perished.

Three of the men described how they rushed to see what they could do.

"Right now di fireman all a wonda how mi lick off di lock. But mi nuh tink mi coulda do dat right now again," said one who only gave his name as 'Leada' yesterday.

Helping to clean up

He and fellow rescuers Charlie Pang and Angello Bryan were looking at the burnt remains of the hostel along with Mustard Seed workers helping to clean up the razed building.

"A some crazy heat wi face," said Pang, as Bryan recalled an electrical wire from which sparks gashed, making the rescue effort a little more difficult. They used a ladder to climb to a window in the upper floor, so that some of the children upstairs could use that as an escape route.

Arms full

On the ground level, their arms were full, carrying children to safety.

"A wi help count them off fi mek sure seh a 30," said Pang.

Reinforcements were soon in coming, including members of Missionaries of the Poor. Some rescuers helped to lift children over the wall separating the hostel from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security's main offices. The residents also saved furniture, some clothes and appliances and, according to Bryan, some of them never went back home, seeing the ordeal through to the early Tuesday morning hours.

The Mustard Seed officials who came to inspect the damage as the Fire Brigade investigative team worked lauded the residents for saving all the children.

"The citizens come gi wi a good helping hand because if a nuh fi dem, a 30 head wud a bus' up," says Aston Lindo, a caretaker at the hostel. The overwhelming feeling was one of gratitude.

"Wi haffi give thanks seh di pickney dem save. Dis (the house) can rebuild," said one resident looking at the charred shell of the hostel. The wards are now being housed at two other Mustard Seed hostels, Matthew 25:40 and Mary's Child.