By Patrick McArdle
A local man who firefighters said helped protect a Meadow Street home during an Aug. 28 fire — and who is a gold-medal winner from the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games — was honored recently by the Rutland City Fire Department and Mayor David Allaire.
Henry Fredericks, 65, of Rutland, used a garden hose to contain a fire at a home on Meadow Street, until the fire department was able to reach the scene.
Fredericks said he was in his house that Monday when he saw some smoke, so he took a look to see what was happening.
“We went down and walked around out back and didn’t see no fire or nothing so I said, ‘I’ll take a walk around the corner,’” he said. “This little girl walked up, and she said, ‘My house is on fire.’ I saw the hose on the ground there. I went over and walked off a ways and start spraying the porch.”
Interim Fire Chief William Lovett said Fredericks did the right thing. He said when a fire happens, the first priority is to make sure that people are out of the burning structure and safe. But Fredericks used the hose on the fire from the outside without putting himself at risk.
Fredericks said he didn’t know the people in the home.
“I saw the fire, and I said, ‘If I can help somebody, I’ll do it,’” he said.
Fredericks said he checked on the little girl the next day to make sure she was OK, and she thanked him for his help.
Lovett read a letter of appreciation written by Allaire to Fredericks during a small ceremony. The letter said Fredericks “risked personal injury to come to the aid of strangers” and commended Fredericks for his bravery.
“This swift action and thoughtfulness controlled the spread of the fire, saving the structure and potentially saving the lives of the occupants,” Allaire wrote.
Lovett presented Fredericks with a Rutland City Fire Department patch and a T-shirt with the department’s logo.
Before the ceremony, Lovett said firefighters had gotten several calls on Aug. 28, around 2:45 p.m., reporting the fire. As they were leaving to respond to the fire, department members could see the column of smoke.
The fire had spread to the porch, moved up the latticework and started up the side of the house, but Fredericks’ action kept the situation from getting worse, Lovett said.
“By the time we got there, he pretty much had most of it done. We had to saw the porch off the house to get into the inner beams, but he really saved the day for us,” he said.
The fire started in the mulch of a flower bed. Lovett said the department investigated and wasn’t able to identify the cause of the fire, but said it was not considered suspicious.
After the ceremony, Fredericks said he was “kinda shaky” about getting the thanks from the city.
“I didn’t believe it at first. I told my girlfriend I was going to get an award. She said, ‘No, you’re not.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am,’” he said.
Lovett said he appreciated the help from Fredericks, but said it was not uncommon for residents of Rutland to offer help like water or refreshments at a fire scene.
“The citizens do get involved, and they ask us often if we need help,” he said.
During the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China, Fredericks, who was an employee of Rutland Plywood at the time, won gold and silver medals in bocce ball.
Fredericks has won more than 30 medals in the Special Olympics.
In 2007, Fredericks and his girlfriend, Jeanie Mangieri, were the only two Vermonters who went to China.