Alert construction workers likely saved man’s life, fire service says

Roy, 36, held the tail of his co-worker’s shirt as Clément, 53, groped slowly through the smoke. “You don’t see nothing: you can’t see your hand,” Clément told the Citizen in an interview late Wednesday. “I go slowly, slowly until I touched something, and I said, ‘Is that you?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ “

The man was just emerging from the basement where he had been sleeping. The trio ran outside together, but as Clément bent over to choke out the smoke in his lungs, the man bolted back into the house, saying he had left something on the stove. Clément and Roy hauled him back outside.

“I said, ‘I don’t care about the stove. I care about you.’ I said, ‘Stay outside. Don’t go in no more.’ “

But the man went back in a second time and the two Modern Eavestroughing employees dutifully pulled him out again.

The man was barefoot — he was in his 20s — and wasn’t thinking straight, Clément said, and wanted to go into the house to find some shoes. “He looked like a zombie, you know.”

So Clément crawled back into the hallway to retrieve a pair of shoes for the man. “I know, I know, I’m crazy,” he said.

A spokesman for Ottawa Fire Services said the two workers likely saved the man’s life. “A very close call,” Marc Messier said.

The fire department was called to the scene, just north of Innes Road, at about 10:20 a.m. The fire was quickly extinguished, but there was heavy smoke damage throughout the home.

The unnamed resident and his rescuers were all treated at hospital for smoke inhalation.

Investigators determined that the fire started in the kitchen due to unattended cooking, a leading cause of house fires. Messier said the homeowner will be charged with failing to install working smoke alarms.

Damage has been estimated at $35,000 and four people have been displaced by the fire.

After the drama, Clément met up with the man he pulled from the house. The man shook his hand and said, “Thank you, you saved my life,” Clement said. “He hugged me and I hugged him and I said, ‘I’m very happy to save your life.’ “

Clément planned to be on a plane Thursday morning bound for a long-planned holiday in Cuba. He said the vacation will give him time to process a workday unlike any other he’s ever known.

“First time I ever do something like that in my life,” said Clement, a Gatineau resident. “You don’t think about what can happen at the time. You just want to help, save the life, you know. It’s very emotional.”

With files from Norman Provencher