The Hope Fire Department was called to the Mount Hope Motel, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 5, after a tragic fire broke out in a resident’s room.
Constable Pattie Evans, the first on scene, arrived to find the door open and through the smoke she spotted the occupant collapsed backwards near the open door. She grabbed him by the feet and pulled him out of the room and into the motel parking lot.
As firefighters battled the blaze, the officer comforted the man until paramedics arrived and rushed him to the Fraser Canyon Hospital.
“The 80 year old male victim regained consciousness and was taken to hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and serious burns,” said Corporal Lea-Anne Dunlop.
Despite the heroic efforts of the officer to save the man’s life he later passed away in hospital.
He had been transferred by ambulance to a burn unit in the lower mainland.
“Despite the tragic outcome the officer is being recognized by her peers for her brave and heroic attempt to save the male’s life,” said Inspector Hilton Smee, the acting Officer in Charge of the Upper Fraser Valley RCMP.
“She will be recommended for an award for her selfless actions which clearly epitomize her dedication and selflessness to protect the community she serves.”
The fire was contained to one unit at the rear of the building.
Fire Chief Tom DeSorcy said that his initial investigation into the fire, Thursday morning, revealed that the origin of the fire was a couch in the front room of the small apartment.
“This fire is believed to have been the cause of careless smoking, with a cigarette suspected of lighting the sofa in the unit on fire. This is a tragic example of a fire that could have been avoided,” added Dunlop.
Firefighters also discovered the smoke detector had been removed from the ceiling and was found under some of the man’s clothing.
And so far a reluctant hero’s story yet to be told. Don McPhee, a resident of the Mount Hope Motel, says that two of his neighbours banged on his door, first alerting him to the fire in the 80-year-old man’s room.
McPhee, who does small maintenance jobs around the aging motel, knew Gerald fairly well. He knew exactly where he would be in the room – asleep on the couch with his jacket over his head.
“He was always like that when we would go to check on him, if we didn’t see him for a few hours,” McPhee, told the Hope Standard.
This time, they could all see smoke coming out from the bottom of the door… “I knew that you’re not suppose to open a door when there is a fire on the other side,” added McPhee.
And as the resident handyman swung open the door of the elderly man’s unit, a solid wall of smoke drove him back.
He ran to his own bright little apartment to grab a wet towel to cover his face and go back in to get Gerald. That is when the officer arrived to find the door of the burning motel unit open.
“We didn’t have to go inside, by then the smoke had cleared,” and “she could see him from the door… She reached out and grabbed one leg and pulled him… I grabbed the other.”
Despite their good intentions, the elderly man protested their efforts, says McPhee, calling out for them to leave him alone, “leave me alone.”
“He was pretty hard to get to know and could have a few swear words for you if you made him mad,” remembers McPhee.
And the motel manager, Mabel, did what she could to help him, bringing him meals, running errands … in the past many other people had tried as well to help, but Gerald was steadfast in his love of his independence and of his cigarettes.
This wasn’t the first fire in his room – it was his third, said McPhee. Sadly it was his last.
Most everyone in Hope knew of Gerald… few knew him by name.
“People would always think he was sick when they saw him,” hunched over, always clutching at his chest, as he shuffled across Old Hope-Princeton Way or Wallace Street, added, McPhee.
“He wasn’t holding his heart, he was just protecting his cigarettes. We actually never saw him sick, even for one day… He was tough as nails. And “he was smart too.”
“I think he was a truck driver… he would tell me of places around B.C. that I had never heard of before. ‘I think I met you once in Kispiox,’ he told me.”
McPhee doesn’t know much of Gerald’s family, just that they may have been in the ranching business in Alberta.
The managers of the Mount Hope Motel are again helping Gerald along and are planning a Memorial Service for their longtime tenant. The service for Gerald Fesser, born June 4th, 1930, will take place at the Grace Baptist Church in Hope at 3:30 p.m., on January 26th.