Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Apartment fire ruled accidental

Grahek resident apparently died before Dec. 27 fire

Keith Vandervort
Posted 1/11/18

ELY – The quick actions of Ely Fire Department personnel using a specialized piece of fire-fighting equipment likely kept the Grahek Apartment fire on Dec. 27 from growing into a conflagration of …

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Apartment fire ruled accidental

Grahek resident apparently died before Dec. 27 fire

Posted

ELY – The quick actions of Ely Fire Department personnel using a specialized piece of fire-fighting equipment likely kept the Grahek Apartment fire on Dec. 27 from growing into a conflagration of tragic proportion.

David Curtis Cashman, 70, apparently died from a medical condition prior to the start of the blaze, according to an investigation involving the EFD, Ely Police Department and the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Cashman’s body was discovered shortly after Ely firefighters knocked down the blaze in his third-floor apartment. The cause of the fire was determined to be smoking materials and ruled accidental, according to Ely Fire Chief Tom Erchull.

The Ely Fire Department was dispatched at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 27, to a report of a fire at the Grahek Apartments, 330 South 3rd Avenue West.

There were initial reports of flames and smoke coming from the windows of a third-story apartment. The first calls came through 911 dispatch from the nearby Sibley Apartments and Boundary Waters Care Center, according to officials.

Some people in the Ely community referred to the quick action by the Ely Fire Department as mere “luck” or “divine intervention.”

Fire Chief Erchull reported to Ely City Council members last week that water was thrown on the fire in as little as six minutes after the first call to dispatch. He pushed back at the opinion of some who said the local volunteer firefighters were just lucky.

“Back in 1996 when the City Council approved the purchase of the Hummer fire truck, a lot of people said we spent too much money on equipment like that.” Erchull said the truck was used as a quick-attack water supply for the city and the townships. “It is now used primarily as a quick-attack vehicle for the city.”

“At the recent Grahek Apartment fire, had it not been for that piece of equipment to get there in lightning-fast time, combined with fast decisions by our firefighters, the outcome would have been a lot different,” Erchull said.

Ely firefighters were able to quickly bring the fire under control. ‘We threw about 250 gallons of water through the living room window from our Hummer (fire truck) and got the fire out,” Erchull said. “We were dispatched at 5 o’clock. The first unit was en route three minutes later, and on scene in two minutes. We had water on the fire within one minute of arrival.”

The Ely Fire Department’s efforts in responding to the fire were assisted by mutual aid partners Morse-Fall Lake Fire Department, Babbitt Fire Department, Ely Ambulance, Ely Police Department, St. Louis County Sheriff Department. staff at the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, Boundary Waters Care Center, Red Cross, and the owners of the Adventure Inn, he said. “This was a great group effort that was put forward on this sad occasion.”

Ely firefighters, Ely ambulance personnel and law enforcement officers were able to safely evacuate the apartment building’s residents to the nearby Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital. The outside temperature was pushing minus-20 at the time.

No other injuries were reported. Ely fire officials reminded area residents to have a fire escape plan, as well as working smoke detectors.

The American Red Cross was contacted as a number of residents were displaced by the fire.

Council members heaped high praise on the efforts of the fire department.

“Everybody seemed to gel together,” said Mayor Chuck Novak, who was out of town on the night of the fire. “Council member Ryan Callen was one of the first firefighters to respond. Council member Al Forsman (facilities director at EBCH) organized a bus to transport Grahek residents to the hospital. It was a good effort. The folks in Ely don’t have to worry. Not everything goes perfect every time, but this was exemplary of what you get with a trained fire department.”

Forsman noted,” The way the community all came together, makes me proud to be part of this community.”

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