College student and part-time firefighter pulls man from burning house

On April 11, 2014, a man was rescued from a house fire by Justin Tracy; a full-time Keene State College student and off-duty firefighter for the Swanzey Fire Department. 

While taking an alternative route home after visiting with friends, off-duty Resident Intern Firefighter Justin Tracy said that he saw the house fire at 365 Sawyers Crossing Road in Swanzey N.H. Tracy said that he pulled up to the scene and called his department’s dispatch center to alert them of the fire before proceeding to the building.

“As I was calling them in, I could hear someone screaming,” Tracy said. He stated that he immediately went to the trunk of his car where his extra fire suit was located.

“Because we [Swanzey Fire Department] have three stations, I keep an extra set of gear in my trunk in case I’m at a different station doing something, so I can just grab it and go. So I threw that on and I walked around.”

Tracy explained that while doing a “360” walk around the home, he came to the side door near the rear of the house where a man, unable to walk due to a medical condition, was located. He noted that the man had suffered burns to his lower extremities.

According to Swanzey Fire Chief Norm Skantze, the individual was  62-year-old home-owner Kenneth Blair.

Swanzey Fire Chief Skantze explained that Blair, a long-time resident of the town, was attempting to exit the building when he was helped by Tracy.

“The fire hadn’t extended this far [through the house] yet, but I could see some smoke or fire extending around the corner. I picked him up and I brought him to the back seat of my car. I took some paper towels, because I just had some for cleaning my windows or whatever and a bottle of water out of the car and just tried to treat him as much as possible from the burns,” Tracy said.

Kyle Bailey / Photo Editor: Above is Justin Tracy; a full-time Keene State College student and off-duty firefighter for the Swanzey Fire Department. On April 11 he saved a man from a burning house.

Kyle Bailey / Photo Editor:
Above is Justin Tracy; a full-time Keene State College student and off-duty firefighter for the Swanzey Fire Department. On April 11 he saved a man from a burning house.

Tracy explained that he worked quickly to safely move Blair into the car within minutes of hearing him, as he knew that a fire can double every 30 seconds. After calling dispatch a second time to order medical help, Tracy said that an ambulance arrived and brought Blair to Cheshire County Medical Center in Keene, N.H.

“It was a typical residential house fire, but the fact that someone was seriously hurt changed the whole dynamic,” Skantze said.

Skantze added that Blair is now recovering at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. After Blair was taken for medical treatment, Tracy said he continued working with his crew at the scene of the house fire for the rest of the night.

“I went to one of my trucks that was on scene, I threw an air-pack on and then we went in the front door…We took a line up the stairs and went to the second floor. As we were on the second floor we got an evacuation order for the second floor, because right where we were, the floor had collapsed right there,” Tracy said.

He continued, “As I was doing a search, I could feel that it had just dropped off right in front of me. They called the order, we backed out and just did a bunch of exterior stuff. I was here until about six-thirty [a.m.] the next day, just keeping an eye on it, making sure it didn’t come back up.”

Skantze said fire crews from about ten surrounding towns, including the City of Keene, responded to help at the house fire.

According to Meghan Pierce of the Union Leader, crews put out the fire in 30 minutes.

The 21-year-old Tracy, who said he had just felt like taking a drive down a different route than usual, noted that events like this night were rare in most fire-safety careers.

Tracy also mentioned, “If you look around, there are only two neighbors around. The closest water supply is going to be almost when you get back to Route 10 at Keene Gas.”

“There’s a cistern [tank that holds and stores water] there, so getting water supply to there is not simple,” Tracy added, noting that the covered bridges in the Swanzey area could also cause potential challenges as fire-trucks are too large to go over the bridges and must use alternative routes to get to streets like Sawyers Crossing Road.

Although he said that this was not his first house fire within his six-year career, Tracy explained, “It took a few days for everything to settle in, it took a little bit to like swallow it.”

Tracy, a full-time safety major at KSC, said he is a Level 3 Firefighter who has taken advanced-certification courses in specialty areas like ice-rescue. He also noted that he is also a certified Emergency Medical Technician.

Tracy was recognized for his actions by the Town of Swanzey Board of Selectmen at a meeting on May 6. Skantze said that Tracy has done a significant amount of work for the fire department.

“We are very fortunate to have him,” Skantze added, “I’m pleased that somebody of that caliber was in the right place and the right time.”

“The name of the game with everything here is safety,” Tracy concluded about his overall work experience, “I like what I do. It just doesn’t feel like work to me.”


Pamela Bump can be contacted at

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