WILKES-BARRE — City fire crews rescued an unconscious man and two cats from apartments above a Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant on Wednesday afternoon, then worked well into the evening to totally extinguish the stubborn blaze.
The man, who was not officially identified, was initially transported to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital with critical injuries, but was soon transferred by helicopter to a burn unit out of the area.
Firefighters were dispatched around 2:25 p.m. to Goodfellas, a restaurant and bar at 316 N. Pennsylvania Ave. that has three second-floor apartments.
Kathryn Pierson, who lives nearby, watched firefighters pull the burn victim from the property. The man appeared to have severe burns and was screaming in pain, she said.
“It’s sad,” she said. “Very disheartening to know someone had to suffer.”
An update on the man’s condition was not available Wednesday night. The man was identified as Kermit Payton, 63, according to his roommates Mark Granick and Robert McLaughlin.
McLaughlin was able to flee the fire, escaping the blaze without having the chance to put on socks and shoes. Granick wasn’t home. The lone occupants of the other two apartments were not home at the time.
By Wednesday evening, fire crews hadn’t yet had a chance to determine a cause of the fire, as they were still trying to fully extinguish the blaze, explained Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney.
Early on, the roof of the building collapsed and “pancaked” to the floor below, making it impossible to get to the fire, he said.
“It stuck together like a sandwich. We couldn’t get to the seat of the fire,” Delaney said.
Wilkes-Barre officials were expecting to hire a company Wednesday night to bring in an excavator and tear down a portion of the building, so fire crews could fully extinguish the fire, the chief said.
Michael Simonson, Wilkes-Barre’s assistant director of operations, said it was too early to tell if the building could be saved, but the plan to tear open the building to get to the fire would further comprise the building’s integrity.
Fire inspectors and code enforcement officials are expected to return to the scene today.
Michael Dennis, one of the tenants who was not home, said he was in the process of purchasing the building from its current owner, Robert Jabers.
Dennis said he planned to convert the establishment into the Silver Top Diner, its former name, during the day and Michael’s Lounge — like the one he owns in Kingston — during the night.
“All the hard work we’ve done and the planning” is lost, Dennis lamented.
Dennis said the sale was expected to take place once his liquor license was approved, which was expected to happen the first week of October.
Another tenant, Kelly McAdarra, 29, said she learned of the fire while driving home. Her first — and only — worries were for her cats, Icarus and Colossus. Upon arrival, she learned Wilkes-Barre firefighters rescued the cats and provided them oxygen to save their lives.
One of the cats, Colossus, was taken to a local animal hospital by fire crews, while Icarus is being housed by a friend who she’ll be staying with, she said.
While she lost everything she owns, McAdarra is still OK with how things turned out.
“I’m thankful I’m alive and they’re alive,” she said. “Everything else could be replaced.”
It was another grueling day in the fire business, but three lives were saved, Delaney said.
“Firefighters did a great job in rescuing that person and taking care of those cats,” he said.