Grants Pass man rescues neighbor from fire

GRANTS PASS — The alarm on his neighbor's smoke detector didn't frighten Calvin Wilhelm.

After all, Wilhelm had responded to the same noise a night earlier only to discover his neighbor had burned something on the stove.

Now the alarm was sounding again. Wilhelm got out bed, grabbed his cell phone and headed downstairs.

"I'm like, 'Here we go again,'" Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm, 46, opened his neighbor's unlocked down and saw only thick black smoke. Unable to see, Wilhelm heard Richard Gammage making a croaking sound, and moved toward the apartment's dining area.

"I found him by sound," Wilhelm recalled of Saturday's fire.

Gammage, 63, was on the floor. Wilhelm grabbed the man and dragged him out of the apartment — throwing out his back in the process. He then used his cell phone to break the glass on a fire extinguisher case and headed back in.

"It was pitch black in there," he said. "There was this line of fire in the dining room going up the wall."

Wilhelm pulled the trigger on the extinguisher: "Emptied it and got the hell out," he told the Grants Pass Daily Courier.

Grants Pass police Officer Kris Ettner arrived to help Gammage, who was suffering from smoke inhalation and minor burns. Wilhelm collapsed from back pain as soon he got out. Both men were taken to Three Rivers Hospital.

Wilhelm later returned home; his back still hurting.

"I'm just glad he's alive," Wilhelm said.

Grants Pass Fire Marshal Brian Pike had yet to determine the fire's cause, but noted that a large tapestry was on the wall near the stove.

Pike said Gammage recalled hearing glass break and then turning around to see flames. At that point, Gammage might have been overcome by smoke. Gammage has trouble walking and uses an electric scooter to get around.

Five more minutes, Pike said, and Gammage could have died.

— The Associated Press

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