Jamestown city employee helps two escape blaze
JAMESTOWN — Joseph Pollaro had just begun his shift Tuesday as an equipment operator with the city of Jamestown when he came across a woman screaming into a phone and pointing down Washington Street.
After circling the block in his dump truck, the 15-year veteran of the public works department saw flames shooting from a multi-unit residence on the corner of Washington and West Seventh streets.
“I saw that the front of the house was in flames, so I parked the truck and I jumped out and asked if anyone was still inside,” said Pollaro, who soon spotted occupants of the residence come running down the stairs. That entryway was filled with smoke and flames, likely preventing anyone else from leaving uninjured.
“There was no going up or going down that way,” he recalled of the fire, reported around 6:40 a.m. “Then I heard people inside screaming for help.”
Pollaro ran to the back of the property, where he saw two people at a second-story window attempting to get fresh air. Realizing their exit was full of flames, the city employee advised the pair that they would have to jump to safety.
“It was the only way out,” Pollaro said. “The woman, she almost came out face-first, so I told her to get out feet-first and hang onto the ledge.”
The young woman then let go and fell into Pollaro’s arm, forcing them both to the ground. The man came out next, again bringing the pair to the ground.
Jamestown firefighters arrived shortly after, dousing the flames that had begun on the first floor before spreading to the rest of the residence.
“They only had so much time,” Pollaro recalled of the two occupants.
After deeming the situation safe, Pollaro got back into his truck, which he had left parked in the middle of the road, and left to resume his work day.
“They said they were OK and went on their way and so I went on my way,” he said. “I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. … I’ve seen a lot over the years (working as a city employee), but when someone is screaming, I think you’re obliged to do something. That’s the way I was raised right here in the city.”
The fire remains under investigation, a city battalion chief said. Crews remained on scene for several hours, and returned after smoke could be seen coming from the second floor around 3 p.m.
Word of Pollaro’s actions drew praise Tuesday.
“Just an incredible act of heroism, in my opinion,” said Jeff Lehman, city public works director, of Pollaro. “It was some quick-thinking on his part to help those folks get out alive.”
Rick Martin has owned the Washington Street property since 1982. He was made aware of the blaze when he turned on his phone and was bombarded with messages.
A neighbor, at a property across the street that Martin also owns, spotted the fire and called 911. “He said, ‘I’m not going to make your day, but your house is on fire,’ “ he said of the neighbor who called him.
By midday, Martin was at the property helping to board up the windows. He said the plan going forward is to talk with his insurance company and assess the damage before making a decision on whether to make repairs.
“I’ve been through a fire. It’s the worst thing in your life to ever go through,” said Martin, also thanking the first responders who turned out, including Jamestown fire, police and Celoron volunteers. “Everybody was great. It worked out perfect, and everybody was on it, otherwise this would be on the ground.”
In June, Martin’s 262 Forest Ave. property was lost in a fire that also broke out before 7 a.m.
Pollaro, meanwhile, believes anyone in his position would have done the same thing, brushing aside notions that he was a hero. “Any one of the great guys I work with would have done the same thing,” he said. “Like I said, I was just in the right place at the right time.”